It was still black when Nadia Hamila, then a young schoolgirl, rolled out of her warm bed at 3am to accompany her father to the slaughterhouse in north London the first morning of Eid al-Adha.
Mrs Hamila, who at the age of 40 is an entrepreneur and owner of a Moroccan packed food business in London, still remembers the feeling of excitement around the holiday. She and her father would bring a whole sheep back to the apartment where all the women gathered to clean the interior and trot in the bathtub.
“We even had a certain order for the way we ate the meat,” she said. The first day of Eid al-Adha was for the organs. The second day they ate the head and the stairs, and only on the third day, when the fresh meat had rested, would they make kebabs, tagines, or barbecue.
The repatriation of animals is now banned in many countries, including large parts of the Arab world, where one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population lives.
Meat is still central to Eid al-Adha, as many Arabs generally refer to as Eid al-Lahm or the Festival of Meat. But as festivities deeply rooted in society and tradition begin to slip away, especially for Arab Muslims in the diaspora, people are finding new ways to observe a holiday where food is characteristic of.
Areej Bazzari, digital marketing director at Salesforce in San Francisco, grew up in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where breakfast was the highlight of Eid al-Adha. On her family’s holiday table, there was a wealth of garbage prepared in countless ways: braised with garlic, fried with onions and spices, or mixed with eggs.
“We had teams,” said Mrs. Bazzari, laughing. “Team liver, team kidneys – and that’s my visualization of Eid at home, we all quarrel about who should sit in front of which record.”
Since her Palestinian family moved to Sonoma County in 2000, they have rarely cooked organ meat, which is harder to find fresh there. In the rare occasion where her father traces a new heart or kidneys, they will include it with other pieces of meat just to continue the tradition, but not with the same abundance that they became accustomed to in Saudi Arabia.
“We’re not going to a slaughterhouse,” she said. “This is like dad going on whole foods.”
Mrs Bazzari, 38, cherishes how her Eid al-Adha celebrations have evolved over the years. “I like that I can draw on childhood experiences and different cultural traditions that I learn from friends here,” she said.
For her, Eid al-Adha now usually includes a large gathering of extended family and friends with Eid decorations and countless dishes, including untraditional ones such as fattehs (toasted bread-based dishes with various protein toppings and sauces); shushbarak (meat-filled dumplings cooked in yogurt sauce); and manaqeesh (flatbreads topped with za’atar and cheese).
But dessert – the highlight that stays on the table for the rest of the day – “is always a taste from home,” Mrs Bazzari said. Her parents still fly to Saudi Arabia or Jordan every year and bring back desserts that they save specifically for Eid. Ka’ak and ma’amoul – typical holiday cakes in the Arab world, made with semolina and most often filled with dates or nuts – are the non-negotiable things on the table.
Mrs Hamila’s range of desserts this year includes cookies filled with dates or nuts. But her star dish for the long holiday will be mechoui, a long-fried lamb – a constant in her feast for her symbolism as much as for her taste. Side dishes will lean more towards salads and vegetables. “It’s the middle of summer,” she said, “and I want to keep it a little light.”
This Eid al-Adha is tentatively set for Tuesday, July 20th. Since Islamic holidays are linked to the Hijri lunar calendar, the exact date depends on the sight of a new moon, and over time, the holiday moves through the seasons. A decade or two ago, Eid al-Adha was celebrated in cooler weather. Over the past five years, the holidays have fallen in the summer and have affected food choices.
Mrs. Hamila appreciates departing from custom. “I am strongly convinced that traditions need to adapt,” she said. For her, it is what counts, embracing the celebration and connecting with the spirit of the event.
Sumaya Obaid, a chef and television personality in the United Arab Emirates, recalls that when she was a child, neighbors, regardless of race or class, would gather to sacrifice sheep to Eid al-Adha and then wash the meat and distribute it.
“Now that the laws have changed and people are not slaughtering animals at home, the cooperation and sharing, the slaughterhouse, the cleaning together, everything has disappeared,” she said. “That sense of community is no longer there.”
Other elements of the Eid celebration, however, remain intact. Machboos el-Eid, the spice and roasted lamb, is still the important holiday destination in the Emirates. The saffron blonde spice mix varies from family to family, and the women take pride in picking the fresh spices out on the market a few days before the celebration to paint and prepare at home.
“It’s so unique, so unique,” Ms Obaid said of her own mix. “But I will only give it to my daughter. It’s one of the most secret things in the family. ”
The heart of the Eid al-Adha meals may be meat, but their spirit is generosity. Mrs. Obaid quickly added, “Inshallah, one day we will share this meal and you will taste our family’s machboos.”
Recipes: Sajiyeh | Ka’ak el Eid