A lovely colleague demonstrates the use of “miswak” or “siwak” – a branch from the Salvadora persica tree that was often used by prophet Mohammed (pbuh) to maintain oral hygiene. It is very common to see a Saudi male with one in his mouth much like you may see someone with a cigarette or a toothpick. One end of the stick is trimmed then slightly chewed to soften the bristles which can be used as a toothbrush. The stick and its extract is said to have many beneficial properties.
These natural toothbrushes are often used during Ramadan to help with the dry mouth and to freshen one’s breath while fasting.
“Breaking fast” with a restaurant full of Saudi families at Assaraya Turkish Restaurant on Talateen Street.
We arrived at 6pm to find the place already half packed with anticipating families sitting down at tables readied with water, lemon, and dates. We ordered our food but not wanting to break any rules (even though we were sitting in our own booth behind curtains) we didn’t touch what was on the table. Our drinks and appetizers (lemon mint, babaganouj, mutabul, and the best bread in Riyadh) arrived right away. Being hungry and unfamiliar with the protocol, ‘someone’ at our table repeatedly asked the server if it was ok to eat, but he only gave us a polite shake of the head and pointed to his watch.
It was an interesting experience, albeit for only a short time, to feel and observe the sense of community that comes from withholding food and breaking fast together. As Magrib striked, the anticipative chatters suddenly dropped to a murmur, and our friendly server poked his head through the curtain and announced, “ok eat!”. A rumble of plates and cups and cutleries ensued, and we cheered as we dived happily into our meal, which never tasted so good.
I love how the tradition of fasting makes a formal occasion of the family meal and highlights the importance of gratitude and appreciation for the abundance of food we can afford today. For a few survival tips during Ramadan, see here. Share your fondest, funnest, weirdest Ramadan experience below, and happy Ramadan!