This article was originally posted on City Spoonful, an online magazine of New York food and culture.
During the month-long observance of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s a time for self-reflection and purification, but in New York City, life—and business—must go on.
Amid sweltering summer temperatures in July and August, fasting Muslims forego all food and water during the day.
Ramadan is an even greater challenge for Muslim street food vendors, who continue to feed hungry New Yorkers even as they fast.
“This year it’s tough [with] the excessive heat,” says Moroccan-born Yassir Raouli, owner of Bistro Truck and its soon-to-open brick-and-mortar sister restaurant Rustic L.E.S. “We work in a tight space in a truck with no air conditioning so it’s a little challenging to not drink water. Other than that, it’s a long day—we break the fast around 8:30[p.m.].”
At the Comme Ci Comme Ça food truck, chef Samir Afrit, who grew up in Morocco, and all of his cooking staff also are fasting for Ramadan. Being around food all day is hard for Afrit and his crew.
“That makes it even like harder to do Ramadan inside the truck because, like you said, you have the food, you are cooking the food, from the morning until, like, 3:00[p.m.] and you cannot even touch it—and plus the water,” says Afrit. “But when you have your faith, so everything in life gets easier.”
When they’re fasting, Afrit says he and his crew work more slowly—especially in the heat. But he adds that Comme Ci Comme Ça’s customers have been very understanding about longer wait times for food.
“Everybody is patient,” Afrit says. “[Our customers] understand even if we are a little bit slow.”
For Bistro Truck’s Raouli, who has been fasting for Ramadan since childhood, years of practice make it easier for him to keep his fast—despite working with food every day.
“I grew up [fasting for Ramadan], so it really doesn’t bother me to see food,” Raouli says. “Water is the main issue to me, due to the excessive heat. Other than that, it’s fine. The day goes by smooth.”
Ishita Singh writes about food at bitesoutoflife.com.
Rustic L.E.S., 124 Ridge St., Lower East Side, Manhattan, (212) 677-6450, Rusticlowereastside.com (grand opening Sept. 5, 2012)