Filipinos flock Manila Eid bazaar in search of authentic Palestinian food

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DHAKA: Hundreds of international students at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation campus in Bangladesh observed Eid Al-Fitr on Thursday, trying to recreate their celebrations at home and share a bit of their respective cultures with friends.

A subsidiary of the OIC, the Islamic University of Technology in Gazipur has nearly 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students — some 300 of whom are from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority countries across the world.

Some of them, like Jamal Hazara, an Afghan student who is finishing his program in electronics, have not been home during Eid for several years.

“Observing Eid far away from family is very hard. There is a popular saying in my country that says that people feel very good during Eid, and they should dance in front of their parents. Of course, we miss family a lot,” Hazara told Arab News, as he prepared to cook Kabuli pulau — an iconic Afghan dish — with other students from his country.

“Every community on campus does the same and shares their food culture with others.”

Hazara learned to cook the traditional dish of rice with caramelized carrots and marinated meat from his mother.

“All Afghans can cook this food. I love it most because it’s something very unique. We can’t find it in Bangladesh. It reminds us of the taste of home food, and it’s always better than the outside food,” he said.

“Whatever our mothers have taught us, prepared for us at home, we miss that food here.”

International students at the OIC-funded Islamic University of Technology in Gazipur, Bangladesh, gather for Eid Al-Fitr prayers on April 11, 2024. (Jamal Hazara)

For Hazara’s Sudanese colleague, Ayman Elsadig, who is pursuing his master’s degree in telecommunications, the favorite food to share was maamoul, butter cookies filled with dates.

“It’s made of dates and flour and water. We put the mixture in the oven and fry with oil. At the end, a little sugar is spread on top,” he said.

The recipe comes from Elsadig’s mother.

“To me, it’s a very special kind of food. In Bangladesh, we don’t see many date trees. But in my country, we grow plenty … so, the taste of dates in maamoul reminds me of my country. It always reminds me of my home,” Elsadig said.

“On different occasions, my local friends used to treat me with their local food and culture. So, I am also trying to do the same thing … so that they can feel how our Sudanese food tastes.”

International students at the OIC-funded Islamic University of Technology in Gazipur, Bangladesh, observe Eid Al-Fitr on April 11, 2024. (Jamal Hazara)

Khalil Al-Moliki, a Yemeni student from Sanaa, also wanted to prepare a date desert dish for his friends. He chose ka’ak, a traditional sweet and savory brioche — a Yemeni staple for special occasions.

“It’s mandatory for each family to have ka’ak on Eid day. It requires flour, sugar, eggs, to prepare … It’s a long process,” he said.

“On every Eid throughout my life, I’ve had ka’ak and it’s something very traditional for us.”