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Eating during Ramadan

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Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims are forbidden by both religious and civil law from smoking and from eating or drinking anything – including water and, in the strictest interpretations, even their own saliva – during the hours of daylight. Throughout Ramadan, almost all cafés and restaurants nationwide (apart from those in big hotels) stay closed until sunset, whereupon most do a roaring trade into the early hours. Markets, groceries and supermarkets are open during the day for purchases, with slightly truncated hours.

All shops close for an hour or two around dusk to allow staff to break the fast with family or friends – and this is a great time to join in. Restaurants of all kinds, including those within hotels, make the sunset “breakfast” meal iftar a real occasion, with special decorations, themed folkloric events or music and general merriment. Even the cheapest diners will rig up party lights and lay out tables and chairs on the street to accommodate crowds of people, all sitting down together to share the experience of breaking the day’s fast. Many people have two or three light dinners as the evening goes on, moving from one group of friends or relatives to the next.

For foreigners, nothing too serious will happen if you inadvertently light up a cigarette in public during the day, but the locals will not thank you for walking down the street munching a sandwich: if you do, expect lots of shouting and perhaps some unpleasantness. All four- and five-star hotels serve both food and soft drinks to foreigners during daylight, although they will only do so in places out of view of the street. If you’re travelling on a tight budget and are buying picnic food for both breakfast and lunch, you’ll need to exercise a good deal of tact during the day in eating either behind closed doors or well out of sight in the countryside.

It is illegal for supermarkets and the majority of restaurants (that is, all those below a certain star rating) to sell alcohol for the entire month. At the time of writing, it was possible for non-Jordanians to buy and consume alcohol during Ramadan in five-star hotels and a handful of independent restaurants (mostly in Amman), but you may find the rules have changed when you visit.

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