Foods and Menus for Special Occasions

Special occasions occur frequently within the Sudanese social calendar and are commonly associated with the preparation of specific foods that correspond to the type of occasion. These social occasions commemorate religious or spiritual Holy days, personal milestones or in the event of an accident or bereavement. The food prepared for these occasions are said to provide protection for those involved.

Below are examples of the commonly agreed upon cultural and culinary practices of riverine Arabic speaking Muslims in the major events of their life. It must be mentioned that slightly, and totally different, practices to the ones mentioned below can be carried out for the same event, not only within riverine Arabic speaking Muslims but also the many other groups within Sudan. Subsequent sections describe the practices of Coptic Christians and other communities.
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Islamic Holy days

Eid al Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Ramdan, and Moulid al Nabi

Note: The Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the standardised 365 day Gregorian solar calendar. Therefore, annual events on the Islamic calendar occur around 11 days earlier on the Gregorian calendar.

Eid al Adha – Feast of Sacrifice

An annual Islamic celebration marking the end of the annual Haj pilgrimage. The celebration commemorates prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah who had instructed him to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, Allah replaces Ishmael with a ram and spares his life. Muslims celebrate their obedience to Allah by sacrificing a lamb on Eid al Adha and sharing its meat evenly between one’s family, their community, and the needy.

Dishes prepared include:

  • Leg or shoulder lamb-roasted or boiled (dul’a), barbecued lamb (shaya)
  • Fried lamb lungs, lamb liver (kabda), lamb: heart, liver, kidneys and fried meat in onion and chilli dressing (kabab)
  • Kamunia: intestines cooked in sauce, marara: throat, stomach and liver
  • Fried lamb pieces (lahma mahamara), sheep trotters soup (kawari), lamb meat served with torn bread pieces, rice and stock (fattah)
  • Aubergine salad, peanut salad, peanut chilli dip, mixed green salad, yoghurt and cucumber salad
  • Okra stew (um rigeiga), fermented sorghum sheets (kisra), kunafa dessert
  • Sharbout (date wine)
Sharbout is a fermented date drink that is known to help the digestion of heavy meals, particularly meat-heavy meals and fatty foods. Sharbout is usually served at the end of the meal on Eid al Adha to gently digest the meat and fat from the meal and settles the stomach.

Significance of these foods

A wide variety of lamb dishes are prepared to make the utmost of the lamb slaughter. Sudanese Muslims follow the Islamic teaching of not wasting food, especially a Holy sacrifice, therefore almost all of the lamb is used to make dishes or cooking products such as clarified butter - samna. In most cases, only the hooves and other small parts are thrown away, while other inedible items are repurposed, such as making skins for drums and horns adorn front doors for spiritual protection.


Ramadan is the Holy month of daytime fasting and the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Many Muslims consider the month of Ramadan as one of the most important periods of the year. The consumption of food and water is prohibited between daylight hours as well as all other sensory pleasures, such as sexual activity and cursing, throughout the entire month. Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, restraint, devotion and the congregation of friends, family and community.

Suhur - Pre-sunrise meal

Suhur is an optional meal eaten shorly before sunrise thus being the last meal before one begins their daily fast.
More so in rural parts of Sudan, there is a sort of town crier figure called a musahirati who slowly paces through the streets of their neighbourhood before sunrise, banging rhythmically on a drum and yelling out loud the last call to eat suhur.
They would shout: “You who are fasting, get up and eat (your) suhur, and those who not fasting, wrap yourself in your covers and sleep.”
In areas without a designated musahirati, small groups of children carry out the task by cheering, shouting, and banging randomly on drums or other instruments such as pots and pans, encouraged to make as much noise as possible, much like an alarm, momentarily waking up their community for suhur.

A common suhur (pre-sunrise meal) could be:

  • Crispy cereal flakes (rugag)
  • sweetened vermicelli pasta (shieria) or sorghum or millet dumpling (asida) with milk
  • tea with baked biscuits
  • fruit juices: orange, hibiscus, guava (with milk), mango, baobab, grapefruit, watermelon or lime.
  • thin crêpe (fateer) with yoghurt and honey
  • oat porridge, porridge pudding (madayid) or rice pudding
  • sweet or savoury cooked beans (baleela)
  • any leftovers that are warmed up as a light savoury meal such as asida with mullah

Fatur (Iftar) - Breaking the Fast (Breakfast)

Muslims must break their fast the moment the sun sets and not at any time thereafter, usually by eating dates and reciting the Arabic for: “Allah, upon your request I have fasted, and from your blessing (food) I shall eat, so may you (Allah) accept my fast”. Muslims then either pray the standard maghreb prayer immediately after breaking their fast and then return to complete the meal, or pray after the entire meal. Taraweeh are longer prayers that continue late into the night.

It is customary for Sudanese men to break their fast at large gatherings while seated on large floor mats, either outside a home preparing a communal meal for the community, or at a mosque where locals provide donations of either food or money to feed the large groups gathering at sunset. As the call to prayer, and breaking the fast, draws close any passersby found in the vicinity of the communal dining area are strongly encouraged to join the meal. Those who find themselves en route to their destination when the call to eat arrives, are compelled to dine at the nearest possible location before continuing their journey. As such inviting passersby to break their fast gains further blessings from the meal, which increases exponentially as more diners join. In rural communities and small towns, groups of men either physically block the road or hold a common imma, a long white headwrap fabric, on either side of the road to block any traffic at sunset. Drivers and their passengers are encouraged to join the breaking of the fast, (women break their fast indoors with the other women) after which they may continue their journey.

Ramadan breakfast (fatur/iftar) foods include:

  • Starters: soups, dates, figs, apricot, raisins, boiled chickpeas or red cowpeas (baleela), olives, cheeses, samosa (sambuxa), yoghurt and cucumber salad
  • Mains: a variety of Sudanese stews (mullah tagalia, mullah ni’emia, mullah abyad), served with porridge dumpling (asida), pancake bread (gurasa), lamb or chicken stewed in tomato sauce (dem’a), fava beans (fuul), Sudanese falafel (ta’mia), mini pizza, scrambled eggs
  • Desserts: sweetened vermicelli pasta (shieria), rice pudding, semolina cake (basbusa), kunafa, fried batter balls (ligeimat), sweet filling samosa (crushed peanuts with sugar and cinnamon, or dates and cinnamon). Served with tea and jabana coffee (traditonal east African coffee).
  • Drinks: juices include mango, tamarind, orange, lime, guava, and baobab fruit (tabaldi). Infusions include red or white hibiscus (karkade), white abreh and hilu-mur (spiced sorghum sheets soaked in water), and nasha, a fermented sorghum drink served warm or cold.
Hilu-mur is a traditional Sudanese drink made from spiced fermented sorghum sheets soaked in water to make an infusion. The process of making hilu-mur is long and complicated, it is based on the preparation of kisra, a local staple made by cooking fermented sorghum batter into wafer-thin sheets. Hilu-mur was said to have been invented by Amna Abelrazig Alfahl from Berber, Northern Sudan in the late 19th century while experimenting with the kisra making process. During the months and weeks that lead up to Ramadan, women gather in groups of 4 to 5 to work systematically in one another’s homes to lighten the burden of making hilu-mur.

Significance of the food

Soups and juices are made to restore essential water to the body after abstaining all day. Warm soup helps expand a constricted stomach due to fasting to allow greater solid food to be ingested. Once the meal is over, fruits, juices, and desserts can be enjoyed at leisure for the remainder of the evening in preparation for the next day’s fast.

Islamic teaching for general eating practices states that one should fill the stomach with one-third of solid foods, and one-third of liquids, and leave the final third empty as air. This promotes portion control, drinking enough water, and complies with the Islamic numerology of doing things in threes. This is also encouraged during Ramadan so as not to overfeed and feel bloated after breakfast/fatur.

Asida is considered a filling main meal that can be digested easily without the discomfort commonly associated with overfeeding. The preparation of baleela (a range of stewed bean dishes) and dates are regarded as essential but the type of baleela can vary depending on the region. For example in western Sudan, baleela is commonly made with peeled wheat, millet, or sweetcorn, while in central and northern Sudan it's made of chickpeas.

Jum’at al Yetee “al rahmatat” - The Last Friday of Ramadan

A commemorative meal (karama) of roast lamb, boiled rice and torn pieces of bread soaked in lamb broth (fattah) served with dates is prepared to remember all those who recently passed as well as those still mourned long after their passing. The last week of Ramadan marks the start of preparations for Eid al Fitr, when a variety of baked biscuits, such as makana biscuits and ka’ak, are commonly made in celebration.

Eid al Fitr - Festival of Breaking the Fast

This Eid (Holy Day) is an Islamic celebration marking the end of the Holy month of Ramadan. The celebrations involve visiting family, giving treats to children, and as expected, sharing a communal meal. It is especially important to give to the needy at the end of Ramadan since it is a time to reflect on our privileges which we may take for granted. Feeding the poor or making contributions of food or money to local mosques are ways of showing support for one's community.

Foods associated with Eid al Fitr include:

  • Fish casserole with tamarind or apricot , fried whole fish or any fish dish
  • Traditional stews (mullah tagalia, mullah niemia)
  • Traditonal breads (asida, kisra, or gurasa)
  • Sudanese falafel (ta’mia), fava beans (fuul), fried meat (lahma mahamara)
  • Sweets: dates, butter biscuits with icing sugar (ka’ak), nigella and sesame seed finger biscuits (minein), aniseed biscotti (yansoon), sweetened pasta desserts (shieria, suksukania)
  • Juices: guava, mango, red hibiscus, apricot, baobab fruit

Significance of these dishes

For the most part, fish dishes are avoided during Ramadan as they are said to cause thirst, presumably due to their high salt content, which can make fasting unbearable. Therefore on Eid al Fitr, it is customary to prepare fish dishes after abstaining from them for the month. Common fish dishes at Eid al Fitr include fish casserole and whole-fried fish, specifically fried tilapia. Baked biscuits, sweets, and juices are offered to guests as they come to pay their respects. Take note that these types of foods are examples of food prepared for celebratory, and joyful occasions, and contrast the foods made on sad occasions such as funerals, described in detail later.

Moulid al Nabi – The Prophet’s Birthday

Sunni Muslims commemorate Prophet Mohamed’s (ﷺ) birthday on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic lunar calendar, while Shi’a Muslims commemorate the Prophet’s birthday 5 days later on the 17th. Celebrations usually start one week prior and last until one week following the actual date.

Foods commonly made for the Prophet’s birthday include:

  • lamb served with boiled rice and bread soaked in lamb broth (fattah)
  • tea and biscuits, fruit juices, and infusions
  • fuchsia pink candy molded into figures of horses or dolls (pictured below)
  • fried dough balls with icing sugar (ligeimat) and other sweets (pictured below) made of sesame seeds, peanuts, and chickpeas, known collectively as moulid sweets

Significance of these dishes

Muslims make celebratory foods to commemorate the Prophet’s birthday, as well as food offerings (karama) to be sent as a charity on the last day of the 11-day long period


Al Agid, Groom’s brunch, Hennat al  arees, Jirtig, and Subhia

Traditionally, families take the occasion of celebrating a family wedding as an opportunity to express their flair for homecooking as a statement of their identity, demonstrating to the community and corresponding family their culinary expertise. More middleclass families, especially ones based in urban centres, prefer to outsource the wedding food to a professional caterer.

Al Agid - Marriage Ceremony

Al Agid is the formal signing of the marriage papers between the groom's male elders and the bride’s father or representative. The ceremony is normally carried out at a local mosque, but can also be at a private residence. It is a males only ceremony that may or may not include the groom. After the ceremony, certain foods are distributed to the guests which include: dates, mixed nuts, a range of baked biscuits, refreshment drinks, and other sweets and candies.

Women await the arrival of the men at the bride’s home and serve celebratory foods to their guests, including baked biscuits such as butter biscuits with icing sugar (ka’ak), petit fours biscuits, served with hot drinks, mixed nuts, dates, fruits, juices and soft drinks.

Later in the day, a dinner may be prepared at the bride’s house, which would include a ceremonial lamb slaughter to mark the happy occasion to assure Allah’s blessing for the marriage.

As a result, many meat dishes are prepared for a sit-down meal and can include:

  • Mullah um rigeiga and other desired mullahs, served with fermented sorghum sheets (kisra)
  • Tabayikh stews such as haricot bean stew (fasulia) or okra stew (bamya), served with boiled rice
  • Roast leg or shoulder of lamb (dul’a), lamb tripe (kamunia), lamb meat and liver cooked with vegetables (kabab)
  • Aubergine salad, stuffed vegetables (mahshi)
  • Green salad, tahini dip (taheena)

Fatur al ‘Arees - Groom’s brunch

A groom’s brunch (fatur al ‘arees) is a traditional Sudanese wedding celebration in which the bride’s family make a brunch feast for the groom’s family and their guests, and is regarded as a wedding gift from the bride’s mother to the groom’s mother. The food is made in the bride’s home and delivered to the groom’s home. It is an important occasion that brings both families together, therefore, a good first impression needs to be made with the food’s arrival and is often accompanied by gifts for the immediate family members. The gifts are normally items of clothing such as shirts for men, and a thoube for married women, perfumes, and jewellery.

A groom’s brunch customarily includes:

  • Traditional stews such as mullah tagalia, mullah niemia, and mullah abyad
  • Stewed chicken in tomato sauce (dem’at dijaj)
  • barbecued meats (shaya), fried lamb pieces (lahma mahamara)
  • boiled eggs, cheeses, olives, Sudanese falafel (ta’mia), fava beans (fuul), fresh and cooked salads
  • sweetened pasta desserts such as shieria and suksukania
  • baked biscuits such as ka'ak (butter biscuits covered in icing sugar), yansoun (aniseed biscuits), minain (finger biscuits), guraiba (clove biscuits) and gargoush (fermented-milk based rusks).
  • fried pastries such as fateer and mashabak, ‘imat tarbas, and layered fateer pastry (fateera maftuha)
  • fermented drinks such as sharbout balah, sharbout karkade, sharbout aradaib
Fatur nashif (dry breakfast) is when dried goods are sent to the groom’s house and then the groom's family prepare the food themselves. These items include dried beans, dried okra powder (weka), dried meat powder (sharmoot), flours, oils, sugar, tea, coffee, eggs, cheeses, fateer (crispy pastry), baked biscuits, mixed nuts seeds, and sweets. A fatur nashif is occasionally agreed upon by both families to simplify the process, especially if the groom’s family prefer to make their own fatur al arees.

Hennat al 'Arees - Groom's Henna Party

The groom’s henna party prepares him for the rights he takes at the traditional jirtig ceremony (mentioned later). Henna dye is applied to the hands and feet by one or two close female relatives while traditional songs are sung and foods are distributed to the relatively small and close group made up of family, friends and members of the community. The groom's close male friends and relatives may also have henna applied to their hands in solidarity with the groom.

If the henna party is a dinner (ghada), a typical tray could include:

  • Leg or shoulder of lamb (dul’a) served on macaroni pasta or rice
  • Fried chicken, stuffed vegetables (mahshi)
  • Traditional stews such as mullah um rigeiga served with kisra (fermented sorghum sheets)
  • Small pieces of lamb meat and liver served with chopped vegetables (kabab)
  • Other stews known as tabeekh such as purslane stew (rijla) or okra stew (bamya)
  • A variety of salads: mayonnaise salad, mixed green salad, aubergine salad
  • Desserts include: baklava (ba’sta), creme caramel, trifle, and fruits such as watermelon

Geduma - Main Wedding Celebration

The geduma is the main celebration of the wedding for the wider community to attend and is organised by the groom's family. As such the groom's father invites many people from their community including the bride and groom's extended family and friends. The event is usually an evening engagement therefore guests are usually served either dinner (ghada, 4-6pm) or supper (asha, 8-10pm).

The menu normally includes a catered meal that can include bufteik, Sudanese falafel (ta'mia), cheeses, olives, rice pudding, fried batter balls (ligeimat), baklava (basta), tea, coffee and fruits. These foods commemorate the celebration as happy and joyous while also including something white (e.g. rice pudding) to symbolise purity and bring forth prosperity.

Jirtig - Traditional Wedding Ceremony

The jirtig is a traditional women-led wedding ceremony involving the bride and groom dressed in specific traditional dress, seated on a traditional palm fibre bed (angareib) and surrounded by specifc paraphernalia for the ceremony. The groom carries a traditional sword to symbolise his bravery and manhood, while the bride wears red and gold with a headdress made of gold coins who's glare wards off or deflects the evil eye - a look of jealousy or envy with the power to curse and bring bad fortune. A female elder carries out a variety of traditional customs using specific paraphernalia while women play drums, and other traditional instruments, and sing a specific genre of songs for the ceremony known as aghani banaat, girl's songs. The tradition involves burning incense, wearing traditional objects for protection, and showering the audience with perfumes, sweets and occasionally flowers/petals and turmeric-coloured rice.

In preparation for the jirtig ceremony, the bride sits over a burning incense pit while cloaked to perfume and smoke her body from the neck down as part of an intensive skincare regime which gives her skin a luminous glow. Traditional body scents and incense for the home are made by the bride’s family in preparation for the wedding and married life. Married women continue to use these traditional scents throughout their marriage, elderly women are especially known to wear these traditional fragrances.

On the day of the jirtig, the groom’s family delivers a sheep and fruits to the bride’s family. The bride’s family prepare asida (sorghum dumpling) with mullah abyad (yoghurt stew), fried lamb pieces (lahma mahamara), mini pizzas, rice pudding, fried batter balls (ligeimat), baked biscuits, pastries, fateer (crispy pastry), sharbout (date wine) and a range of juices.


Guests watching the jirtig ceremony may be fed but with light celebratory snacks such as assorted baked biscuits that are usually for receiving guests at a home reception. Providing small snacks is done to gain some blessings for the wedding, rather than preparing a full meal. These light foods are to keep people going as they watch the ceremony.

The flowers and perfume are regarded as celebratory gifts that provide blessings for the wedding, while turmeric’s yellow colour symbolises everlasting love, and the white rice symbolises prosperity. At some point in the ceremony, a game is played between the bride and groom requiring both to drink from a cup of milk and hold a mouthful of milk in their mouths. The aim is to spit the milk in the your partner's face before that partner does the same. The first one to spit the milk in the other’s face is said to be the one that will bring the greater prosperity to the marriage. Milk is used for its white colour which symbolises purity, health, growth and prosperity.

Since milk from animals comes only after livestock give birth, especially having grazed well on fresh pasture following a productive rainy season, milk came to be inextricably linked with prosperity and thus used in ceremonies. Milk is repeatedly used in modern Sudanese culture, including food, to mark ceremonies of growth, prosperity and purity where a prosperous future is desired such as weddings, births and other social occasions where success is essential.

Subhia - Bridal Dance

The subhia is the traditional Sudanese wedding tradition of a bridal dance. The bride wears extravagantly decorative Sudanese dresses and dances for her husband and their wedding party. A female singer leads the music by playing drums by hand and singing traditional Sudanese songs specific to this dance whilst backing singers  sing in nasal voices. The groom occasionally joins the bride on the dance floor but mainly to provide support for the bride and cause a distraction while the bride rests between songs, he usually sits on a stool in the corner and makes joyful gestures such as snapping the fingers or repeatedly hitting his index finger against other fingers creating a loud snapping sound called bisheir. Female spectators make joyful cheers in adoration of the bride’s dancing by making a very loud and high-pitched “ayooouuiiii” sound while placing the index finger and thumb together next to the mouth. The bride performs various traditional dances at different tempos while taking plenty of rest breaks and costume changes for an evening of traditional dance to be enjoyed only by females at the wedding party.

The tradition used to be open to the close community of friends and relatives and is said the brides used to dance topless with just gold jewellery covering their bare chests, this was more common in small towns and rural areas. Following the implementation of Islamic law in the mid-1980’s, the event became restricted to only female spectators, with the exception of the groom and the bride’s brothers. Traditionally the bride wears a red dress that symbolises fertility and gold jewellery whose glare deflects the evil eye. Modern subhias usually include a 2 to 3 costume changes for added flair.

Foods made for the suhbia include:

  • Dumpling (asida) with tomato and yoghurt stew (mullah niemia) or yoghurt stew (mullah roub)
  • Crispy pastry dessert (fateer), snowflake pastry (fateer mashabak), sheria and suksukania (pasta desserts)
  • Fried pieces of lamb (lahma mahamara) and other meat dishes
  • Sharbout, a fermented date drink and many other juices


Bait-bika, Widows, and Sadaga

Islamic funerals require that the deceased be buried within 24 hours from the time of death. Within Sudanese culture it is important to spread the news quickly to give the family and members of the community an opportunity to attend the burial. Family and friends based oversea often decide to travel immediately after hearing the news to attend the burial of a loved one. The body must be washed by close family members of the same sex, then perfumed and shrouded in white cloth. The body is then taken to a nearby cemetery on a traditional Sudanese bed (angareib) where the funeral prayers are performed, upon which the shrouded body is buried directly into a grave. After returning home, traditional juices such as hilu-mur are made for those who went to the graveyard. In western Sudan, a drink called moyat al kawsar or um laboukha, is served in the same manner and is made by soaking millet flour in warm water with lime juice or tamarind then sieved into a cool tea or infusion.

Bait al Bika - The Crying (Mourning) House

At the home of the deceased, a three to four-day mourning period begins where by relatives and members of the community attend to pay their respects. They are given food and drink for the duration of their visit. Guests enter the home through gender-specific entrances and remain in their gender-designated part of the house throughout their visit. Men usually occupy the exterior of the home, often having a marquee set up to shade them from the strong midday sun for the duration of the mourning period. The marquee may be within the grounds of the house but is oftentimes set up in the street directly outside the front door which inevitably and frequently blocks the movement of local traffic. Male mourners usually arrive at the marquee and are greeted by male relatives of the deceased. While female relatives occupy the interior of the house and receive female mourners from the family and community through a female-only entrance. Mourners wishing to pay their respects to family members of the opposite sex are dealt with upon request and are carried out at a gender-neutral part of the house, usually outside the female entrance. Upon meeting one another mourners recite Surrat al Faat'ha in their minds with palms facing upward before making somber greetings and showing grief.

Traditionally the neighbours of the deceased would agree to supply a collective condolence package of essential household items for use over the coming mourning period and would include: oil, sugar, salt, flour, dried okra, dried onions, spices, ground meat, tomato sauce or paste, tea, coffee, biscuits, large pans, coal, trays, water containers, tea and coffee flasks, glasses, jugs, and sometimes includes petty cash to buy such items or any other items used over the mourning period. In some cases, a few neighbours band together to either make all the food and drink required by the mourning house for the mourning period of 3 to 4 days or make their homes available to serve meals or host mourners over this period as their family’s contribution. This practice has fallen out of use more recently due to the economic hardships the country has faced in recent years. The mourning period is over after the 3 to 4 days of bereavement and is known as rafih al furash, or the lifting of the fabric. This name could imply the lifting of the fabric that covers the marquee set up for male mourners, or the lifting of the bedding fabric that female relatives sleep on. Bedding fabric was sometimes arranged on the floors of bedrooms so that a greater number of younger close female relatives could sleep there and help out during the mourning period. The beds are reserved for older close female relatives staying over during this period. After the 3 to 4 day mourning period has ended, mourners are still able to come to the deceased's home to pay their respects if they haven’t done so already. These mourners stay for a shorter period and are rarely provided a meal, instead they are served the customary drinks extended to all guests.

In earlier sections, celebratory foods were mentioned for their use in marking Sudanese celebrations. In a similar manner, somber foods are prepared during the mourning period to mark more somber occasions, notably funerals.

Somber foods include fattah varieties (meat, rice and stock), fermented sorghum sheets (kisra), dumpling (asida), Sudanese stews (mullahat), and other foods whose main purpose is to sustain people over the coming days and not include items associated with a celebration such as elaborately prepared or indulgent foods. Celebratory foods include barbecued meats (shaya), roast lamb (dul'a), stuffed lamb (sharouf mahshi), baked biscuits, multiple fresh juices, and desserts.

A lamb slaughter is customarily carried out and the meat would be used to make a fattah of meat, rice, bread, and stock mixed together to easily feed many diners. An old Dongulawi (from Dongola, north Sudan) tradition believes that meat should not be served at funerals out of respect for the deceased. Other traditions state that meats other than lamb, such as chicken, should not be served at funerals. In recent years those who can afford to provide well-funded funeral meals have phased out these traditions and serve a range of meats.

During the mourning period, the deceased’s home is known as a bait-bika or the crying house. This is because female mourners are known to wail, shriek and sob to express their stricken grief. Though technically against the teachings of Islam, showing this level of grief is a traditional custom that still continues as a social norm. The customary crying is even sometimes fabricated to conform to the social norm. Some wealthy families have been known to hire a bakaya or crier, a lady who is briefed on the life of the deceased so that she may tell stories about them to cultivate a cathartic atmosphere of mourning and storytelling that encourages mourners to share and grieve collectively.

Since the mourning period last a few days, the foods made depend on which meal is being served:

  • Fatur (breakfast): fuul (fava beans), ta’mia (Sudanese falafel), boiled eggs, cheese, dem’a (tomato-based stew with chicken or lamb), gurasa (pancake breads), kebda (lamb liver), salads, tea and coffee
  • Ghada (lunch): fattah, fried meat, mullahat (gravy stews), bamya (okra stew), kisa (fermented sorghum sheets), tabeekh (cooked stew), kabab (liver and meat with mixed vegetables) fresh salad, cooked salads such as fried aubergine salad, and tea and coffee
  • Asha (supper): ta’mia (Sudanese falafel), fuul (fava beans), cheese, tea with milk, ligeimat (fried batter balls)
Ligeimat al Sadaga
Ligeimat (fried batter balls) are served with tea and coffee on the last day of hosting mourners at maghrib (sunset) to mark the end of the mourning period. Numerology is important in commemorating the deceased, as the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 15th and 40th days after bereavement are regarded as the sadaga, days of rememberance where the family prepares fattah (lamb, rice, bread, and stock), baleela (bean stew), ligeimat (fried batter balls) and sends these foods as charity to the poor on behalf of the deceased.  


The main intention of the foods made at the bait-bika (crying house) is to feed the large number of mourners coming to pay their condolences to support the grieving family. Therefore the food’s purpose is simply to sustain these guests over many hours. As such the food should be easy to prepare and not concerned with elaborate flair.

If a close relative of the deceased living close by could not make the journey to the deceased’s home due to any type of incapacity, the prepared food would be delivered to them in order for them to feel involved in commemorating their relative. The bait-bika practice can also be carried out at the home of a close relative who lives far away from the deceased, either locally or overseas, and where there is a sizable community of mourners that wish to pay their condolences to the family.


Traditionally, widowed women undergo a distinctly stringent mourning period. The widow must remain in the confines of her own home for a mourning period of 4 months and 10 days. Over this period she must wear a white toube, a large traditional cotton fabric wrapped around the body, and must not have contact with any man other than her close male relatives. She can’t wear makeup, fragrances, colourful clothing, or jewellery.

She must also maintain a strict meat free diet of foods such as kisra bel water (fermented sorghum sheets with onion and tomato), mullah weka (ground okra in lamb stock), plain fuul, and other simple foods with little to no seasoning. She may drink tea without sugar, and avoid fresh juices and other sweet foods such as biscuits or desserts. The bland-tasting food is intended to mirror (or encourage) her state of mourning over the required period. She may choose to not sit on regular chairs and prefer somewhat uncomfortable floor seating to further add to the amguish and discomfort she is already experiencing.

As with other ceremonies, she commemorates the bereavement at the customary intervals of: 3, 5, 7, 15, and 40 days after the funeral. On the 15th day, she will have only female guests paying a visit. At 40 days it is said that the soul of the deceased returns home and so either somber foods or their preferred foods are made for their spiritual return. Once the widow has completed her 4 months and 10-day mourning period in isolation, she may prepare for al tul’ah or the outing. The widow and some female relatives and friends have a lamb slaughtered then make fattah, other lamb dishes and and other preferred foods. These foods are then prepared for al tul’ah, the outing. The outing is a trip to the River Nile that comes with strict instructions. From the moment the widow leaves her home, she may not look at any man for fear that he may die after being seen by the widow. At the river the widow blesses herself by splashing river water on her head, then they share the food and may even throw some into the river thus completing her mourning period, and she may henceforth look at any man.

The tradition of imposed seclusion of the widow and avoidance of males over this period is so that she does not become pregnant by another man after her husband’s death, thus changing the course of the inheritance in the confusion over the paternal lineage. Conversely, if a man’s wife dies, mourners may offer their daughter’s hand in marriage to compensate the grieving husband, and sometimes her unmarried younger sister. This is done to ease his pain, and may even involve having marriage formalities completed before the dead wife has been buried. These practices are present in staunchly patriarchal communities and are not representative of the whole of Sudan.

Sadaga – Remembrance Ceremonies

The remembrance of late relatives, sadaga, is more formally commemorated on the 7th, 40th days after their bereavement, as well as the first anniversary of their passing known as holia. On these days, the deceased’s grave is visited by the family and food is prepared at home including nasha (fermented sorghum drink), fattah (fried lamb, rice, bread and stock), baleela (bean stew), baleela adaseeya (red beans), chickpeas in a light broth, and a lamb slaughter if possible. After lunch (ghada), ligeimat (fried batter balls), and dates are served with tea. Sometimes a portion of the foods are taken to a local mosque as charity to feed the needy. In some northern Sudanese communitites, sadaga is prepared without meat out of respect to the deceased.

Members of the rubaatab ethnic group of northern Sudan organise a collective commemoration (sadaga) for all their recently bereaved relatives to coincide on the last Thursday of the month of Ramadan. Anyone not observing the fast, such as younger children, may spend the day going from one rubaatabi house to another collecting the blessings of food and drink such as fattah and dates, which are offered to all guests. After the fast has been broken at sunset, those observing the fast visit rubaatabi homes and spend time with their community while commemorating their late relatives.

Blessings and Milestones

Karama, Pregnancy, Newborn children, and Semaya


A karama is an offering of food to give thanks to and provide protection for a recent event. Occasions that call for a karama to be prepared include: recovering from a severe illness or accident, arriving home from a long journey or long period away, buying a new car, other vehicle, or home, acaedemic achievements, passing exams or securing desirable work opportunities. A karama is prepared as an offering for the preservation and continuation of a blessed life for the individual(s) involved. There are no formal invitations for a karama, instead the family will prepare the food and inform diner about the karama just before serving or delivering the food to close friends, neighbours, or relatives.

A karama usually involves the slaughter of either lamb, chicken, or cattle as a grand gesture, and making a fattah with the meat. Foods from the lamb slaughter include lahma mahamara, fattah, dem’a, um rigeiga. However other foods may also be made such as ligeimat and baleela. These foods are intended to be shared with close friends and relatives and are also given as charity to the needy.  
Numerology is important in Islamic Sudanese food culture and gives rise to unique dishes such as the seven bean stew, al musabahia, which means, made of seven. The number 7 along with 3, 15, and 40 are important numbers and derive from Islamic teachings and the lunar calendar. As such these numbers frequently appear in Sudanese tradition and the timings of certain ceremonies.


Pregnant women are encouraged to relax at home and usually have their close relations around for support and to prepare their food cravings for them on demand. It is said that a birthmark may appear on the newborn’s skin if the mother’s food cravings are not fulfilled by her partner or family.

Throughout the recovery period following giving birth, new mothers are given drinks such as nasha, made of fermented sorghum, and ghalaya (fenugreek boiled with milk and water). In addition to regular meals, they are given madeedat hilba (fenugreek pudding) and madeedat ballah (date pudding), since these foods and drinks are known to be fortifying and improve well-being to those feeling weak. Some families prepare shorbat hamam (pigeon soup), as well as lamb or chicken soup, and boiled eggs.

Ta'an al Ibra - Needle Prick

Ta’an al ibra is a traditional practice performed for the protection and safe delivery of an unborn infant. When a mother’s pregnancy reaches 7 months, she invites 7 married mothers from her close friends, relatives, and community to prepare food at her home. The ladies have a lamb slaughtered and prepare lamb-based foods such as lahma mahamara, as well as mullah abyad (yoghurt stew) and asida (sorghum dumpling) as well as rice pudding for dessert. The lamb slaughter is a sacrificial offering and the other foods are made due to their association with the colour white, either as a major ingredient (e.g. yoghurt or rice) or in its final appearance (e.g. sorghum dumpling). Then without washing their hands from the preparation of these foods, the seven ladies smear the white foods such as cooled asida and mullah onto the stomach of the pregnant lady to bless her for the remaining 2 months of her pregnancy. The ladies then clean up and share the meal they have prepared.

Throughout the entire ceremony, the expecting mother wears a long thin hair pin in her hair with charms attached to it, such as colourful braided threads, beads, and small pendants. This act gives the ceremony its name of tahn al ibra which literally means the prick of the needle or needle prick. It is said that the headpiece drives away bad spirits and protects the mother and unborn child.


At the birth of a newborn child, midwives chew dates and feed the paste to the child or gently rub it into their gums as they recite verses from Quran. This is done so the first foods the baby eats are dates (mentioned in the Quran) and the first words they hear are from the Quran. This practice is sometimes carried out by a person whom the parents know, is the same gender as the newborn, and is regarded as their role model.

Traditionally the mother remains at home for 40 days after giving birth. While the mother recovers at home, she may drink ghalaya, made by boiling milk and fenugreek, as it's said to restore strength. Fenugreek pudding (madeedat hilba) is also made to promote lactation, while the date pudding (madeedat balah) is said to help prevent postpartum bleeding. Followers of Sudanese traditional medicine believe the same effect can be reached by eating seven dates. Tahneeya (sesame seed sweet) is also said to induce lactation in the new mother. The mother is encouraged to eat chicken as a source of protein. If she can, she can also drink the first milk from a lactating cow, called liba, that is also said to promote lactation.

When blessed with a newborn child, certain foods and customs are carried out on the 3rd day (karama), 7th (simaya-naming ceremony), 15th, 40th day, and 7 months following their birth. One practice is to deliver rice pudding and fried batter balls (ligeimat) to seven nearby homes on these days. On the 40th day, a lamb can be slaughtered and various foods are made for the occasion including mullahat (mullah stews), kisra (fermented sorghum sheets), dul’a (roast lamb), lahma mahamara (fried lamb), and more recently macaroni with minced meat and tomato sauce. Other foods include ligeimat, aniseed biscuits (yansoon), baleela (bean stew), rice pudding, juices, and traditional drinks such as hilu-mur.

A trip to the River Nile is also customary on 40th day. River water is splashed on the child and mother for protection and a handful of foods are made for the occasion including rice pudding, baleela, and dates are thrown into the river as an offering either to the river as a life force or to the merpeople, or underwater beings, who are believed to live in the River Nile. There is a mythological belief that underwater beings live in underwater towns and villages that mirror our own world. At 7 months old (ziyana) a karama of rice pudding is made and either all or part of the child’s head is shaved for the first time.

Semaya – Child’s Naming Ceremony

A newborn’s naming ceremony usually occurs one week after the birth. Children are sometimes named after one of their grandparents, though names are said to come to close relatives in dreams leading up to the ceremony. The foods prepared for the semaya include fried batter balls (ligeimat), date pudding (madeedat balah), and the slaughter of two lambs if it’s a boy, one lamb if it’s a girl. Lamb signifies celebratory food that marks the occasion as a happy one as well as providing a blessing over the child’s life. Roast lamb (dul’a), fermented sorghum sheets (kisra), dried okra stew (mullah um rigeiga), lamb meat, rice, bread and stock (fattah), fried aubergine salad (salatat aswad), stuffed vegetables (mahshi), lamb meat and liver with diced vegetables (kabab), lamb tripe (kamunia).

Other Religious Celebrations

Coptic Christians and Jewish celebrations

Coptic Christians

The Sudanese Coptic Christians community are orthodox Christians that settled in Sudan from Egypt long before the arrival of Islam. As such Coptic Christians (Copts) have a culinary heritage based on Egyptian and Turkish cuisines. Copts are known for making dishes including kishk (tomato and yoghurt stew), mulukhiya (jute leaf stew), fuul (fava beans), ta’mia (falafel), mahshi (stuffed vegetables), tabeekh gar’a (pumpkin stew) and other popular Egyptian foods. For example Copts prepare mulukhiya in an Egyptian style that is more of a soup, and made from rabbit or chicken instead of lamb.


Easter is an important annual celebration for orthodox Coptic Christians. They observe a fasting period of 55 days, where they abstain from food and water from midnight until sunset, or until 3 to 4 pm after attending the church’s mass service after which they break their fast with a vegan meal.

Good Friday

Christians commemorate this day as the day when Jesus was crucified. Orthodox Christians fast on Good Friday as well as other days during the Lenten period. The fast is usually broken at around 6pm after a church service with local juices such as red hibiscus, baobab, hilu-mur, tamarind, gamar eldeen (apricot paste juice).

On Easter, Coptic Christians make faseekh, a cured fish dish with a pungent odour. Radishes accompany the faseekh and are said to be a good combination for the highly salted dish and also for cleansing the kidneys. Coptic Christians also make boiled eggs and then use food dyes to colour them as Easter eggs. Onions are hung symbolically to ward off evil spirits. Coloured boiled eggs and fresh arugula are eaten as symbols of fertility.

Coptic Christians fast 55 days for Easter, as an extension of the standard 40 days fasting period, which includes 7 days before and after the standard Lenten period.

Easter celebrated in springtime has many parallels to the pharaonic celebration dating back 4,500 years that was celebrated at the same time of year known as Sham el Nessim, meaning “the smell of breeze”. After the annual Nile floods the receded waters would leave shallow pools full of fish. The Ancient Egyptians likely saw this as a blessing and preserved these fish then served them as faseekh at springtime. Decorative eggs are regarded as symbols of regenerative life to pharaonic culture and could be the origin of coloured Easter eggs.

Coptic Christmas on 7th January

Coptic Christians make commonly associated Christmas food including:

  • boiled and roast turkey (given cognac to drink so that meat tenderises)
  • Hamam mahshi, stuffed pigeon filled with rice or bulgar
  • Vine leaves wrapped around boiled rice and cooked in stock are commonly served, sometimes stuffed with a mixture of rice and minced meat.
  • Minced meat with rice, crushed pine nuts and almonds. Dul'a, boiled and roasted lamb
  • Kebebba, mulukhiya, kishk, busara, baid mizalhlil. Cold cuts of beef and barbecued meats
  • Yoghurt and cucumber salad, sesame dip (taheena), garlic dip (tumia)
  • Desserts and baked biscuits are made including um ali and ka’ak

After fasting for 43 days on a vegan diet, Copts serve Christmas dinner on 7th January and eat shorbat lisan asfur (lamb stock with orzo pasra), cheeses, chicken casserole, boiled rice. Drinks include hibiscus juice (karkade), hilu-mur, baobab juice (tabaldi), abreh abyad and gamar el deen (apricot paste juice).

Jewish celebrations

Jews settled in Sudan from Egypt in the early 19th century and lived in a relatively tolerant society amongst Christians and Muslims. Similarly to Sudanese Copts, Sudanese Jews worked as merchants and traders and their community prospered. At around Sudan’s independence from British rule in 1956, many Jewish families left Sudan in the midst of a growing national climate of radicalised Islam alongside an international wave of migration of Jews to the infamously established Jewish state of Israel on Palestinian land.

In researching this book I met a woman called Daisy, whose family are Sudanese Jews, and informed me of their culture. Daisy is also writing a Jewish Sudanese cookbook and deserves checking out at

Passover (Pesach)

Passover is a week-long Jewish holiday starting from the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (March/April). Passover commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Passover is also known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread, as it is said that the Jews’ rapid exodus did not even allow for the fermentation of dough. As such the use of leaven or yeast is prohibited in food preparation during this period, and so only unleavened bread (matzah), or flatbread, is commonly consumed in commemoration.

Matzah is the unleavened bread made during Passover. A simple batter of flour and water is prepared and baked in a hot oven for a short period to produce a flat cracker. A matzo tool, a type of rolling pin with spikes is used to pierce holes into the uncooked dough to further prevent the dough from rising while baking.
Haroset is a date syrup or paste eaten at Passover. It is made by boiling dates until soft and are then either pressed to extract a syrup or mashed into a paste. The date paste or syrup is then mixed with fruits, nuts, ground cinnamon, and occasionally wine to make a sweet dessert that is commonly served on the Seder night (the night of Passover). The word haroset means clay and refers to the clay colour of the date paste or syrup which when mixed with the mixed fruits and nuts resembles clay-coloured bricks and straw, used in brick making. As such haroset commemorates the period when the Jews were forced to make bricks while in Egypt.

New Year (Rosh Hashana)

  • Ka’ak bi Agwa: ka’ak baked biscuits stuffed with dates.
  • Natif is a spread with the consistency of meringue or marshmallow creme. Made by boiling the marsh-mallow root (althea officinalis), known as shirsh el-halaweh, and mixing this with egg white and syrup. The spread is eaten with small cookies stuffed with nuts called karabish.

These desserts are made so that a sweet new year may follow.

Yom Kippur

Daylight fasting is broken with fuul or borekas, stuffed phyllo or puff pastry, which varies between families.


A spiral-shaped pastry called zilabia and other celebratory foods are made to commemorate Hanukkah.