I am writing this second part of my Ramzan Special series after a gap of two years, so before moving on you can ask me why this delay? The first part was written in 2017 and back then I knew there is more to talk about this larger than life religious event and its connected food tales, but I never knew how I should build the second part of my series, which will add more value to this entire Ramzan Special series. I never wanted to cover few more food stalls in the same area and make it look different. Also I never wanted to go on a Haleem trail like many do and make it look more or less like a Beef Walk. This year after reading a lot, I realized what I was missing all this while. I realized that most people are living with a misconception about iftar or iftar food walks! So, I have decided to share my thoughts and findings along with a few food stories that I have gathered this year.
What Quran says?
Firstly let’s start from the basics and learn the purpose behind the fasting during Ramzan. We will discuss about Iftar and then Sehri or Suhūr later. After discussions with my Muslim friends and studying the Quran a bit, I found a few key facts that I would like to share quickly. Ramadan or Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it is also the month during which adult Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. They refrain from eating, smoking, drinking, sexual intimacy or any other form of pleasurable activities! Fasting is observed by all Muslims except those who are chronically ill, elderly, pregnant, traveling, breastfeeding, or menstruating. If feasible, they must make up the days they do not fast before the next Ramadan.
While they are fasting, they can’t even swallow their saliva unless it’s unintentional. Ramadan is that holy month which aims to purify the soul and bring the individual closer to God, Allah. Month-long fasting during Ramzan is compulsory for all the Muslims and it is said that they have to fast if they want to stay righteous. Quran also says Allah is with those who restrain themselves. Fasting during Ramzan teaches self-restraint, self-discipline, sacrifice, ability to control and refrain from worldly desires, pleasures and to spend some time in prayers, sharing and caring for the unprivileged ones. Ramzan is said to be a gift from Allah and fasting is a noble act that is loved by Allah, so during this time, Muslims seek for salvation, generosity, and forgiveness. Lailat-ul-Qadr is the night of power during Ramzan and considered to be the holiest night, it occurs on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramzan. After this month, the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr is observed, a celebration that marks the end of Ramzan and the associated fasting.
I always tend to search for a scientific explanation and logical reasoning to any problem or incident I come across. And the month-long fasting during Ramzan is no different. Recently I have been introduced to a sangha, an association where healthy living and natural healing processes are discussed. So, fasting during Ramzan is associated with the blessings from Allah but besides that, this act of ‘Dry Fasting’ (when you can’t eat or even drink) for a certain number of hours is hugely beneficial for health and self-healing. Medicine and science have confirmed that there are multiple health benefits linked to fasting for a month in a year. It is an amazing way to cleanse the stomach (or rather the entire system) and also has many health benefits; the body heals itself and fights on its own against several diseases in this manner.
Importance of Iftar and Sehri
Now since we know the religious and the scientific backgrounds of fasting during Ramzan, we can proudly march ahead and talk about the food which is actually consumed by Muslims during this holy month. Since fasting is observed from sunset to sunrise, meals have to be consumed before sunrise and after sunset. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as sehri or suhūr (suhoor), while the evening meal consumed after the sun goes down (to break the fast) is called iftar.
But then again Ramzan is not about the iftar and Sehri meals – haleems, kebabs and beef biryanis! Ramzan is about multiplying the spiritual rewards for fasting; it’s the time when Muslims devote themselves to salat (or prayers) and recitation of the Quran, it’s about inner cleansing of body and mind. Also, believers need to mandatorily perform charitable deeds during Ramzan. But sadly new-age foodies tend to ignore all these and concentrate only on the Beef Haleem!
What you should have for Iftar meals?
People break their day-long fast during iftar, so the basic food item that is consumed to break the fast is fruit and water. But there is some sort of order. You should definitely break your fast with dates (khajoor), followed by banana and other fruits having good water content like watermelon, ice apple, pineapple, papaya, litchi, and so on.
These fruits help the body revitalize and gain back some minerals and essential nutrients pretty quickly, for e.g. ice apples have loads of potassium and calcium, so you can have it during this heat after breaking the fast to gain back some minerals, water content and to keep your stomach healthy and happy after the arduous day of fasting!
So as you can understand, from now on don’t jump in for Haleem (some even jump for biryanis) when you hear about iftar meals! If you break your fast regularly with beef biriyani and haleems, you won’t survive till the next Ramzan! So before anything at all, you need to break the misconception that iftar is NOT all about beef haleems, kebabs and biryanis.
Anyway coming back to our iftar meal, since we are not drinking even a drop of water during fasting, it’s very important to get hydrated as soon as possible during iftar. After having some dates and fruits, you can have some sharbat, fresh fruit juices (like sugarcane, wood apple, mango, etc), tea, thandai, etc. At Zakaria street, you will get stalls selling Rooh Afza (best for summers) and hand carts selling fresh mango juice.
Once you know you are moderately hydrated you can move on to other food items. You can have some nuts, Kala chana, Ghugni, soups with breads, etc. Add some freshly chopped onions and a dash of lime to it! You can try some bread like bhakarkhani, sheermal, taftaan, etc. Now you can also have some veg fritters or pakodas.
At Zakaria Street, you get a plethora of fried food items. Besides onion, spinach, brinjal, egg fritters, you get whole fish fried called Mahi Akbari. You can try those from Taskeen at Zakaria Street, they sell well marinated Katla fish deep fried that oozes with richness and flavors, and if I am not wrong they use a unique dry rub on the fish which is not found at other shops. Also, try their Chicken Changezi and that amazing Falooda.
Also try the Suta Kebabs from the century-old Adam’s Kebab Shop, recently they have introduced mutton suta kebabs besides their age old beef counterpart. I have tried the mutton variant and it tastes really awesome and tender with a slight squeeze of the lime. Apart from this you can also try several other kebabs (like Murg Katti Kebabs from Zaiqa-e-Dilli), Dahi Bada, Kulfi, Lassi, Phirni, Sheer Khorma, etc.
Talking about sweets, don’t forget to visit century-old Haji Allauddin Sweets at Zakaria Street for their pure ghee products and some amazing Halwas, amritis, gulab jamuns, etc! We tried couple of sweets this time, but I loved the Anjeer and the Almond Halwa, which was damn tasty and a serving cost us only INR 8/-, can you believe it!
After the walk at Zakaria street, if you wish you can go and settle down peacefully at Royal Indian Restaurant, Chitpur and try out some biriyani or Haleem, maybe for the dinner. So, as you can see, I have told you a long list of iftar food items without stressing much on beef, why? Because we have beef all ‘round the year and Ramzan is no special time to jump into plates of beef delicacies, it’s very important to break this misconception now.
Now here is an interesting (though somewhat obvious) finding, and I learnt about this after talking to several Muslim friends of mine. During Ramzan, very rarely they go out to eat. They try to maintain and follow a routine and eat healthy home-cooked food during this period. This is very practical and logical as well; you won’t like to get a stomach upset after eating out and then go into a tiring day-long fast next morning! So the lavish buffets and Haleem-packed Iftar Special menu that renowned restaurants and high-end hotels run during this time are definitely not to be consumed regularly by Muslims, in general, observing the Ramzan fast. Lavish iftar buffets have been condemned by many; instead we should share food with the needy; that is the true spirit of Ramzan.
Why Iftar food walk?
Why not? Iftar food Walks are curated mainly for non-Muslims and food enthusiasts. Individuals who plan these food walks may or may not make some money out of these walks! The good part is, food enthusiasts get to taste many food items they aren’t familiar with. But I am not okay with the part where these food walks tend to meander only around outlets selling beef haleems, beef kebabs, bhuna and nothing else, which sends out a wrong message about iftar and Ramzan, in general. Haleem, Biryani, etc form a small part of iftar meal and there is a lot more to it, like I have already mentioned above. Also for an example, Adams Kebab Shop at Zakaria Street (Kolkata) sells delicious Beef Suta Kebabs all ‘round the year, then why it gets all the eyeballs only during Ramzan? It’s because of these curated food walks and food enthusiasts (that included me as well till I realized) who mix up Ramzan and beef kebabs in the quest of getting some social media engagement and raising their ‘cool quotient’. The beef kebabs should actually be highlighted during the winter months, rather than during this sweltering heat of May and labeling it as a primary Iftari food item. So, iftar food walk should definitely NOT be a ‘beef food walk’, or ‘haleem food walk’. This holy month is about practicing self-restraint, compassion, generosity, charity and definitely not about lavish meals, feasting and wasting food; and definitely not about stuffing your faces!
Since you have read the article till this point, I hope it has helped you pause and ponder a bit! Let’s just share love, food and the true spirit of Ramadan! It’s that month of the year to love and care more the unprivileged ones, to share food with ones who can’t afford to buy it, and has to fast even when it’s not Ramzan!!
Eid Mubarak to all my friends and readers!
[The below part is just an ‘Additional Read’]
So haven’t I tasted Haleem this time?
Yes, definitely I have because you ideally don’t get haleem all ‘round the year. But I decided to dodge all the same age-old places this time and try out something new. What’s the fun in food exploration if it has already been documented and there’s nothing to explore? 🙂 Now in Kolkata, you mostly get the thin Kolkata haleem which has a thin lentil gravy and you can spot a couple of bigger chunks of meat in there as well, which is not the case for Hyderabadi Haleem which has a paste-like consistency and the meat is all grounded in there. In Kolkata, you rarely get Hyderabadi Haleem except for a place or two (I heard it’s available at a new place called Surfire Coastal Café but I am yet to try that). So, I tried two places this time, one for Kolkata Haleem and other for Hyderabadi Haleem. I tried the Kolkata style Mutton Haleem at Shaam-e-Awadh restaurant.
It’s a year old eating house serving decent haleem having gravy that was not very thick, having small mutton pieces in there and overall it was comforting! Also, I loved the Mezbaani Nalli Biryani which I had there, surely worth a try. At the newly opened ibis Kolkata Rajarhat I tried their Mutton Haleem which was prepared in Hyderabadi style, though it was not having that perfect Hyderabadi Haleem consistency and texture but still this was also an amazing flavorful version with the meat, lentil, spices, cashew, everything hugging each other lying under a sheet, dreaming about a better world!
- Discussions and notes exchanged with chef and restaurant owner, Rahul Arora
- Informative articles written by renowned food writer and blogger, Kalyan Karmakar
- Excerpts from the Holy Quran
- An open letter written by Arva Ahmed, Dubai
- Discussions and notes exchange with few Muslim friends and Instagram followers