The Holy month of Ramzan is when all believers take a vow to lead a disciplined life and not have any bad thoughts of any kind. Therefore you are not expected to cheat and lose your temper among other things. Praying five times a day is mandatory for all Muslims and this gains a special importance in this period. Fasting from dawn to dusk is one of the ways we discipline ourselves – body and soul. Personally for me, it makes me fitter. Surprisingly I have not heard of anyone losing weight even after the 30 days of fasting. The probable reason is the food served when we have “Iftaar”.
While the practice seems somber, Ramzan has been a fun time for us as children too. As children we were not allowed to fast. When children are forbidden from something there is all the more zeal to do it. So our parents devised a new “Product” called ” Dabariya Roza” or two Rozas. So we were given breakfast and told to fast till lunch. This included behaving properly, studying and not fighting with our siblings and friends. For lunch we were expected to break our fast ( and thereby have two rozas or “dabariya) and then eat with the elders at dawn. We as children felt that we had come into adulthood as we were allowed to do things our elders did! The practice continues to this day in our family and perhaps in other families too!
Delhi has of late become famous for “Iftaar Parties” thrown by the likes of our former President and Mrs. Sonia gandhi too. Trust me people really look forward to it. Wonder why?
Iftaar is the most complete meal you can ever have. People who fast will tell you that is most difficult to stave off thirst because hunger is controllable. Very unlike a Muslim meal, the Iftaar is primarily vegetarian fare.
The Iftaar preparations are divided into four categories:
The drinks (comprising sweetened lime water or Rooh Afza or any sherbet) are preceded by one ripened date (it is customary to start with a date as the prophet started his Iftaar with a date).
There is a salad spread which comprises a basic onion salad with a dressing of lemon, a tomato salad and a lentil salad which is lentils soaked in a lemon dressing or even a bean sprout dressing is common. Another interesting salad is thinly sliced ripe guavas with a pepper, salt and lemon dressing is also common.
Among the cooked foods, “Ghughni” – a dish made by using black gram cooked with spices or even choley is quite common. The fried stuff comes in next. Phulki made of urad or masoor dal is quite common. Depending on the region it could be a pakori (pure dal soaked and ground without water) or a kachri (dal paste with onions) followed by samosa (the Middle eastern variety is a triangular shaped pastry stuffed with minced meat), which is shaped like a gujia stuffed with mince meat or scrambled egg. The dal batter is then used as a general tampura preparation. Chillies, sliced aubergines, onion rings and tomato slices all form a part of the tampura preparation. This forms the main meal and each one is given a different name. The one with aubergine is called “baigani” – my favourite!
Often enough the delight of the evening is a meat dish which could be a Biryani, Harisa or Haleem. However the seasoned veteran will avoid all meat as it causes pangs of thirst! Last but not the least comes the dessert which could be a Firni made either of rice or seviyan, Moongauchi which is fried moong dal batter in a sugar syrup or Mehboobi which is a sort of pancake.
Apart from this, every family has it’s specials across the world. While Harissa is common in Morocco, Shami kebabs, different types of baked dishes (Malaysia) such as cakes are common the world over. I am sure my mother and mom-in-law can add ten more dishes here, but then for a nuclear family an eight dish Iftaar seems like a major accomplishment.
The preparation starts at about 3pm and takes about 2-3 hours for the food to be laid on the Dastarkhan (a tablecloth normally yellow in colour which is laid on the ground – a practice that we share with people in the Middle east). The kitchen is the busiest place at home and everyone from the cooks to the womenfolk get involved. Children are not allowed to eat lest their dabariya be defiled. When it is time to eat, everyone (including those who may not be fasting or guests if any) takes his or her appointed place and start to fill their plates. On hearing the muezzin’s call, one starts to eat for a few minutes because it it time for prayers. The remainder is consumed after the prayers are over.
While the common impression is that it is a long evening of feasting, things could not be further from the truth. At 6 in the evening, having fasted for a good 12 hours, one is more thirsty than hungry. So one consumes a few glasses of water or sherbet and the remaining hunger is taken care of by the goodies served. Everyone starts their fast at the same time, irrespective of your status in the society. So the Khansaama does not serve food at Iftaar. Self service is the norm.
Dinner which follows about two hours later is just one main meal normally a plain fare of dal, roti, subzi etc or if the occasion calls for it, a dish of Biryani or Haleem with the leftovers of Iftaar!