'Meet Your Neighbour' project brings strangers together for Ramadan dinner

A project called Meet Your Neighbour is encouraging Muslim families across the province to welcome non-Muslim neighbours to their dinner tables to help break the fast and learn more about Ramadan.

The project aims to 'build bridges between communities'

Olcay Seki (second on the right) says his family welcomes as many as 15 guests to their dinner table for Iftar during the month of Ramadan.

When he first came to Canada from Turkey more than a decade ago, Olcay Seki became used to observing Ramadan alone with his family.

"It's a tradition in Ramadan for Muslim families to host other families or people," Seki said in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning. "But I never really felt the need to invite people over because I was fasting."

A project called 'Meet Your Neighbour' is aiming to change that, encouraging Muslim families across the province to welcome non-Muslim neighbours to their dinner tables to help break the fast and learn more about Ramadan.

The holy month is defined by prayer, fasting, charitable giving and self-accountability and it's marked by the practice of a daily fast from dawn to sunset. At the end of the day, the fast is broken with the Iftar meal.

Seki got involved with the project four years ago and says it's changed the way the father of three looks at how the experience of Ramadan can be shared.

"I thought in Turkey that Ramadan was for Muslims only, but then I came to realize the more time I spent with different guests at my house, Ramadan is actually very Canadian in a sense, very universal," Seki said. 

A Ramadan feast

His family now hosts as many as 15 guests at his house during the month of Ramadan to take part in the Iftar.

On Friday, they prepared a meal for guests with a menu that's hard to resist, including:

  • Lentil soup
  • Spring mix salad
  • Carrot salad with yogurt sauce
  • Börek (baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo)
  • Rice 
  • Karnıyarık (eggplants stuffed with ground beef and vegetables)
  • Homemade Ramadan pide (a special flat round bread)
  • Turkish coffee served with Baklava with walnuts

For Lily Leung, a Catholic pastry chef living in Toronto, getting to celebrate Ramadan with Seki and his family this week was an opportunity to learn about a different culture and religion. 

"I'm always very interested in world religion," Leung said. "I find it very interesting and as they invite me, I get to know more about food and through food I know more about the culture and the people."

Seki said at first, sharing a dinner table with strangers can start off somewhat awkwardly, but it's always rewarding in the end. 

"Not only my guests learn from our culture and how we observe Ramadan. I get to learn a lot from them too," Seki said.

"It's a really nice experience, although you don't know the people that you're hosting," he said, adding that his children are often the first to break the ice. 

The 'Meet Your Neighbour' project aims to "build bridges between communities" and help people experience other cultures, according to its website.

Anyone interested in participating in the project can visit the website to sign up as a host or guest.