Traditional Foods of Ashura and why we make them

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. The Day of Ashura, which is celebrated on the 10th day of Muharram holds great significance. On this day several great historical and prophetic events took place. It is the day when Nabu Moosa AS and his people escaped from Pharoah for one. It is also the day Imam Hussain, the grandson of Nabi Mohammed SAW was slain at Karbala. There are quite a few more significant events but I will cover those in a future post this month.

During the first 10 days of Muharram several traditional foods are made. These include Malido, a sweet dry dish made with semolina , Khitchri which is rice made with dhal, Raut, a cake-like patty made with semolina and gor (jaggery) and Sharbet a sweet drink made with water.

Each of these dishes stem more from cultural tradition rather than holding a solid Islamic significance. There is no proof or evidence that these were foods made as an act of Sunnah. Many of them are made today in commemoration of the hardships that the Ahlul Beit (the prophets family) experienced before they were martyred at Karbala.


the 10th of Muharram is the day Nabi Nooh AS (Noah) came to rest on Mount Arafat in Armenia, now known as Turkey, after the 40 days of rain and floods. He found all the dhals (lentils) in the vicinity, collected them and made Fatiha as shukr (thanks). Today we make Khitchri (rice with dhal) on the 7th night of Muharram in remembrance.

Another version attributes Khitchri to when Nabi Moosa AS and his followers survived the Red Sea. All they had to eat was rice and lentils or dried beans. They cooked a pot of this together and though it was not a huge amount, with the grace of Allah it stretched to feed the many.


Malido is made to signify the desert (sand). It was originally made by steaming rice flour and when cooled removing lumps and adding ghee, fresh coconut and sugar. Today we make it with semolina, sugar and butter.


This is a dry cake made with semolina. It started in India 800 – 900 years ago. It symbolises the dry vegetation or stones that Sayyiddina Hussain RA and his family had to endure. Raut, malido and water would be traditionally eaten as a staple diet for 10 days in commemoration. Due to the ingredients in the Raut, eating it for that long as a staple would cause diarrhoea. Poppy seeds were sprinkled on top as it neutralises this effect.


Sharbat, made with rose syrup and water is made to signify the thirst of the Shuhada e Karbala (martyrs of Karbala) when there was no water.

Some make fish during the 7th to 9th Muharram because fresh fish wasn’t available back in the day. Dried fish was used to make fish curry.

There are worse ways to remember auspicious times in our history than with food. As long as we acknowledge that they stem from tradition and not religion. And to also be mindful that these are not days of celebrations and festivals but to remember them in a sober manner with the respect that they deserve.

With sincere thanks to Najmunisa Parker for contributing to this article. Najmunisa is the author of the Kokni Delights cookbook series. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Cover image by Taskeen Parker from the Kokni Delights Third Edition. Find her on Instagram.


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