Egyptians love their sweets, and that’s especially true when it comes to the holidays. Whether it’s Ramadan, Coptic Christmas, or this year’s Mawlid al-Nabi celebration, special traditional deserts created just for these occasions are a staple in streets, homes, and shops throughout the country.
While most people who know even a little about the Islamic world have heard of Ramadan, which is perhaps the biggest celebration for Muslims because it lasts for an entire month, few know about another very significant celebration called Mawlid al-Nabi.
Mawlid al-Nabi commemorates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed and is celebrated not just in Egypt but all across the Arab and Muslim world. Unlike the multi-week celebrations for Ramadan, Mawlid al-Nabi technically begins at sundown on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar and continues through sundown on the following day. However, preparations for Mawlid al-Nabi do begin weeks in advance, especially when it comes to baking, selling, and of course consuming the traditional sweets of this annual holiday, known collectively as halawat al-Mawlid, or Mawlid sweets.
In Egypt, Mawlid sweets typically include lots of intensely flavorful sugary concoctions embedded with various types of caramelized nuts, so if you’re allergic to nuts it might be best to avoid the Middle East during this period. But if you’re not, then you’re in for some unique local deliciousness. Another traditional sweet created especially for Mawlid al-Nabi in Egypt is the sugar doll and the sugar “sultan on a horse.”
Needless to say, this isn’t a time to forget your good toothbrush and best toothpaste when you pack. So as long as you’re prepared for the sugar overload, head to one of the many local bakeries or candy shops to pick up some Mawlid sweets if you’re in Egypt when it falls (remember, it’s 11 days earlier every year because of the way the Islamic calendar syncs with the Gregorian calendar that most of the world uses today). Local favorites include shops such as Coppermelt, Sedra, Etoile, Tseppas, La Reine Doree Patisserie, El Abd Patisserie, and of course La Poire.
And if you to wish someone a “happy Mawlid” while in Egypt, just say “Mawlid al-Nabi mubarak” and you’re sure to elicit a very bright and appreciative smile. 🙂