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Two Cultural Symbols of Ramadan: Lantern and Qatayef

posted on: Jun 7, 2017

By Noura Anwar, Arab America Ambassador Blogger

It’s that time of the year when Muslims all over the world observe the ninth month of the Arab Islamic calendar, the holy month of Ramadan. Muslim and Arab Countries might differ in their Ramadan cultural traditions, but two Ramadan items that they have in common is the Ramadan Lantern(Fanoos), and the delicious Qatayef.

The story of Fanoos (فانوس) started in Egypt at the Fatimi era in 968 when Fatimid leader Al-Muizz li-Din Allah entered Egypt on the 15th of Ramadan and Egyptians greeted him with handmade lamps. In order to shield the candles from the wind, some of them placed the candles on a wooden platform and wrapped it with palm fronds and leather. It became a tradition and since then it’s being practiced to welcome and greet the beginning of the holy month in Egypt.

Egyptians started to improve the quality and design of the Fanoos by crafting it from metal and colorful glass merging the Egyptian folklore with Islamic designs.

It was then widely spread in Arab and Muslim countries and became a tradition in each and every house.

In Egypt, cities are decorated with hanged Fawanees (plural of Fanoos in Arabic) and other decorative paper made crafts. By the sun down, you enjoy the glow of Greater Cairo City with all those lights of colorful lanterns and enjoy watching little kids singing and playing with Fawanees in streets, creating a soul of magic and beauty, placing Egypt’s Ramadan a very special one.

Celebrating Ramadan with a Fanoos is one of the traditions, but Egypt’s Ramadan is also special in its kind of food served on Egyptian tables. One of most unique and only special in Ramadan is “Qatayef”, (قطايف) the kind of desert that has been exported to the Arab and Muslim world.

Some stories would claim that Qatayef was first served in the Abbasi time, but others confirm that it was first served at the “Sultan Sulayman AbdulMalek” in the Amawi era. The word Qatayef linguistically means “Picked bites” as it’s made of small bites to be easily picked and eaten. Some would stuff it with ground meat or cheese but most people stuff it with nuts or cream pudding, then fry it or bake it, and serve it with syrup or powder sugar. It looks like a folded American pancake, but little smaller in size. In all ways, it’s yummy.

Ready for the recipe?

Dough ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon instant active dry yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour


1 Cup mixed chopped nuts

1 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 Tablespoon of cinnamon


2 Cups granulated sugar

1 Cup warm water

1/2 lemon juice

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in water inside the measuring cup for 10 minutes.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour and proofed yeast and sugar water mixture. Combine well, cover, and allow to sit in a warm area for 30-45 minutes. In a frying pan, Use a ladle, make a five-inch pancake with the batter. Once the batter begins to bubble on top, remove Qatayef from pan and set aside. Stuff it with nuts then fry or bake it, then dip in the syrup.