It’s a boneyard tonight inside Café Delice on Clanbrassil Street.
Shortly after 10pm on a recent Monday evening, a dozen or so men hang around outside the restaurant, smoking, laughing, messing. Inside, another dozen or so sit around after the iftar meal they’ve just eaten.
Debris lies strewn across the long tables: chicken bones, bread morsels, half-empty bottles of Coke. The owner, Mustapha Kahal, busies himself at the coffee machine while a young boy cleans pot and pans.
And as one or more, inside and out, will tell you – it’s tough when Ramadan falls around the longest day of the year.
A Fast Feast
For the past 19 hours, Larbi Chabira has been fasting. Dressed in a light blue shirt, he sips coffee from a cup near the entrance.
Ramadan, running this year from 6 June to 5 July, is the month offered up to God. Given 11 months to do as we please, says Chabira, it’s only fair to give one to fasting, to cleanse the body and soul.
The holy month of Ramadan involves daily fasting throughout the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and celebrates the time when the Qu’ran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
“The last day of Ramadan is like Christmas,” says Chabira. “The last day, you will be very happy, especially the kids.”
Until then, though, Chabira and the others gathered here at Café Delice tonight must not eat a fleck of food or drink a drop of water all day. They get very hungry by 10pm.
All around the café, plates of leftovers go unattended. There’s no going back for more, there’s little need to.
For the past four years, owner Kahal has opened his doors throughout Ramadan for the local Muslims. He can’t talk right now Chabira says, he’s too busy serving coffees and catching up with friends.
Throughout our chat, Chabira greets those coming and going in Algerian Arabic. It’s mostly Algerians here tonight, and most nights I’m told. As the noise grows louder outside, owner Kahal joins in with the hollers and hellos as a new arrival makes his entrance.
The man walks up to the counter and shakes hands with those gathered round the coffee machine. He’s the Egyptian, a man named Hakim tells me.
“All the communities gather here,” he says. “It’s all free. Would you like some food?”
I decline the leftover piece of traditional bread he offers, out of politeness. The food cooked up by owner Kahal and his team can vary over Ramadan, but most often chorba, a traditional soup made with buttermilk and served with dates, kicks off the nightly offering.
From then on salads, plenty of bread, and, tonight, wings, are all washed down with tea, water or a soft drink. It’s hearty, carb-loaded fare and it’s just what’s needed after a long day’s fast.
It’s also great for the body, says Zoubir Chennit, who arrives long after the meal is finished.
Dressed in a grey tracksuit, wearing a black snapback, Chennit speaks with a distinct Dublin accent. His parents moved from Algeria in the 1980s and he’s lived his whole life around Harold’s Cross.
“I find it’s very good, Ramadan, it’s great for my fitness,” he says. “I train while I’m on Ramadan, one and a half, two hours of training each morning.”
Chennit points out that this, 19 June, is the halfway point of their fast. Longer days mean later meals. It can be tough, the sun going down so late, he says.
But with the discipline of fasting year after year, and the call to evening prayer shortly after eating, it’s managed well enough.
The tarawih, additional evening prayers during Ramadan, usually take place around 11:15pm when Ramadan falls this late.
Blackpitts Mosque is a short enough walk away down Clanbrassil Street and Donovan Lane, and some depart for it early. Most stay on though.
Outside, the younger crowd fire up cigarettes, laughing on ledges or against lampposts. Others, like Chennit and Chabira, stay inside for coffees and table chats.
“It’s the time of year where everybody connects with each other,” says Chennit. “We share more time, speak about our religion, speak about our identity and our lifestyle.”
Any good deed is multiplied by seven during Ramadan, says Chennet. The devils leave and across Muslim communities food is prepared and given for free from neighbours and local café owners like Kahal. In Saudi Arabia, one man tells me, food is left outside nearly every house after the sun goes down.
Kahal’s premises may be one of the bigger places to gather, I’m told, but soon an even larger spot will momentarily accommodate those taking part in Ramadan.
A Big Tent
From Thursday 23 June to Saturday 25 June in St Patrick’s Park, the Ramadan Tent Project is set to take place for the first time in Ireland.
The community-led initiative aims to bring together homeless people and members of the public to share in a meal with Muslims as they break their fast.
The tent can hold 100 to 150 people, and there will be speakers each evening. The project, geared towards social change through bridge building, kicks off at 9pm each evening and ends at 11pm.
Back in Café Delice, this meal is well over but some still linger. The tables are cleared, and a brush is dragged along the floor, collecting dropped leaves and the odd wing.
Now loaded up on their daily energy allowance, it will soon be back to the fast. Some still sip coffee, others smoke.
The kitchen is nearly spotless again as a young boy sends a gold pot clattering to the floor. Owner Kahal sighs audibly.
“Did you get everything you needed my friend?” asks Hakim, as I grab my bag to pack up. “Did you talk to enough people?”
He invites me back the next night, and, in fact, anytime throughout Ramadan. The last night’s sure to be good one, he says.
The numbers outside on Clanbrassil Street have dwindled since I first arrived. The smell of the evening repast has since faded.
Before leaving for my 122 bus back to Phibsborough, I shake owner Kahal’s hand and thank him for having me and apologise for not getting a chance to chat properly with him. He shrugs it off.
“No problem.” he says.
“What time do you finish? When do the last ones leave?” I ask him.
“Oh, three in the morning?” he says. “I mean, come on, they’re fasting for god’s sake!”