Sudan’s speciality ‘bittersweet’ Ramadan drink
As generations of Sudanese before her had done, Wissal Abdel Ghany huddled next to a fire to prepare a traditional drink, a traditional drink she enjoyed during the fasting month of Ramadan.
In Sudan, the “helo-murr”, which means “bittersweet”, is a drink that is associated with the Islamic holy month.
It can be found on almost every table across the northeast African country at the end of the day.
“Without him, our table feels empty,” said Abdel Ghany, wearing a bright orange scarf.
She sat in a small room in the village of Om Eshr, on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum, teemed with a small force of women who were busy scraping and spreading a mixture before serving the drink in clear glasses.
The drink has been around for decades and recipes “have been passed down from our mothers and grandmothers,” said the 43-year-old.
The corn is harvested and left to dry in the sun before being ground and mixed with spices such as fenugreek, cumin or even hibiscus — another essential Ramadan drink in Sudan.
The mixture is then soaked in sugar and water for several days.
Abdel Ghany spread a layer of the thick brown paste over a grill plate over the coals of a wood fire, cooking it in a thin, leather-colored film.
The resulting crepe-like layer is peeled and stored – ready to be soaked in the final step to create the beloved drink.
As cold as it gets, the drink is one of many ways to redeem Sudan, a significant challenge in one of the world’s hottest countries.
– Collective effort –
The day-long fasting month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dusk to dawn, after which they traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast.
In Sudan, the brew is so identified with Ramadan that even the US embassy took to Twitter to promote its staff, with diplomats throwing wooden spoons over mugs and sipping the amber liquid.
Abdel Ghany said that preparing the drink is a collective effort, “bringing together our sisters and friends”.
“We share it with ourselves”, she said.
In Sudan’s cities, she said, some people don’t do it themselves.
“But they still have to offer it for dinner, so they buy it ready”, she said.
For Abdel Ghany, the preparation of the hello-murr and the holy month cannot be separated.
“You only need to smell the smell coming from a house to know that Ramadan is here,” she said.