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Home is where the iftaar is

  • Sample ‘iftar’ meals from across the country, dished out by home chefs, food authors and walk curators
  • On offer are a range of heirloom recipes and everyday seasonal staples

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Salma Husain, food historian and author:

At Salma Husain’s home in Gurgaon, one can find a big table groaning under the weight of ten dishes. These delicacies bring together memories of growing up in Mumbai and the influences of Delhi NCR, where she now stays. “Every place has a different style of iftar meal,” she says. Usually, at her home, fast is broken with khajur, or dates, and in case these are not available, with a little bit of salt. “In Bombay, an iftar meal comprises of onion and potato bhajjias and the triangular samosas, also called the Bohri samosas,” says Husain. Decades ago, it was important to have two kinds of samosas -- the khara filled with spicy minced meat, and the meetha with a stuffing of dried fruit, coconut and khus khus. She also makes something called the kokum ke aloo, in which tiny holes are dug into boiled baby potatoes. These are then filled with kokum chutney. “Cutlets too form an important part of the repast. There is no concept of the fruit chaat in Mumbai, but it features in a big way in Delhi. Here, you also find soaked chana dal, garnished with chopped onions and coriander, or else there is the ghugni,” she says. Dahi vada and Roohafza act as a unifying factor across iftar meals in both the cities and can be found on Husain’s table as well.

Fatema Soni, founder, The Big Spread, Mumbai:

At Alisha Apartments in Byculla, one can find an assortment of dishes, ranging from malpua jalebi to bheja cutlets, laid out on a big round thaal. Fatema Soni, who started The Big Spread in 2015 to provide a community-style Bohri meal experience, is getting ready to break her fast with a pinch of salt, followed by dates. “The Bohri community has a few patent things in their iftar meal, one of which is the gud pani, or jaggery with water, lime and tukmaria, or chia seeds,” she says. During iftar, she also opens her home to diners, who wish to partake of an authentic Bohri thaal experience. The meal alternates between sweet and savoury, with dishes such as phirni, sheer khurma, lamb chops, nalli nihari, samosas and chana batata making an appearance. “More than anything else, iftar is the time when the family comes together. That’s what makes it special,” she says.

Tasneem Ayub, Ammees Kitchen, Chennai:

Over the years, Ammees Kitchen has carved quite a name for itself for its homely flavours and a wide range of biryanis, such as the sheesh kebab one. But when it comes to an iftar meal, the chef and founder Tasneem Ayub swears by the traditional nombu kanji, a porridge of rice, lentils and spices. This staple Ramadan dish has been whipped up by her family, across generations. “And dates, of course, and some sherbet, which is light and palatable. At home, we have samosas and fruit salad. My husband loves including bread omelette as well. We keep the meal light,” she says. Ayub also dishes out some jelly as part of the iftar repast, as it is cooling. However, she avoids haleem when Ramadan falls in the summer months, as it is heavy and not easy on the stomach.

Iftekhar Ahsan, founder and walk lead, Calcutta Walks:

The iftar meal at Iftekhar Ahsan’s home is a tad bit different from that prevalent across Kolkata. His forefathers moved from Rajasthan to Bengal around the time of Independence, and the food cooked at his home draws influences from both his native and adopted state. “We prefer the sweet sugared yogurt as opposed to the plain tok doi eaten in Bengal. Also, we include beef in our iftar meal. The minced meat is rolled up as breaded balls or fried in some kind of batter,” says Ahsan, who also conducts iftar walks across the city at this time. Besides these, one finds the regular fried delicacies such as the beguni and the pyaju in the meal. This is washed down with coconut water and is generally followed by a platter of fruits grown locally, such as the water apple. “Also, the haleem made in our home has chunks of meat and gravy, as opposed to the one made in Hyderabad, which is more pasty,” he says. While growing up, a favourite haunt of his used to be the Aminia in Chitpur, which used to serve a stellar haleem, and would be frequented by the likes of Gauhar Jaan. “Aminia has shut shop in Chitpur and nothing is left from that era,” says Ahsan.

Shabnam Borah, home chef specialising in the cuisine of the Assamese Muslim community, Delhi:

Shabnam Borah has been trying to popularise the niche cuisine of the Assamese Muslim community through pop-ups and festivals in Delhi. She mentions a special dish made with kala chana, salt and ginger water that is used to open the fast with. The kala chana also makes an appearance in the ghugni. The iftar meal at Borah’s home is centred around Assam’s famous bora saul, or sticky rice. It is transformed into pithas -- both sweet and savoury -- such as the anguli pitha and the pati nuriyuva pitha. The meal is incomplete without the pulao and korma, which is lighter in colour unlike the brown versions available elsewhere in the country. The latter can be scooped up with a pancake, again made with sticky rice flour. “Also, unlike Delhi, we don’t make a fruit chaat, but have seasonal fruits, simply diced and cut,” she says.

Najma Abdullah, founder, Mama’s Kitchen, Bengaluru:

In the Moplah community of Kerala, that Najma Abdullah hails from, it is believed that a bout of fasting should be followed by a hearty meal in the evening. The iftar meal includes at least five kinds of fried snacks such as the unnakai, or fried plantain, wheat and rice rotis, kinnathappam, a kind of steamed cake, cutlets, and more. “But in our family, it is believed that lot of food on an empty stomach is not good. The idea of the meal is to be together,” says Abdullah. So, she makes only one fried snack, and another non-oily variant like the upma. However, she never misses out on making the muttapatil, the recipe for which has been passed down in her family. “I learnt it from my mother. Not many people know how to make it. We make a special dough, pill the egg, and then cover it with rose water and sugar,” she says.

Saher Khanzada, who specialises in the cuisine of the Kokani Muslim community, Mumbai:

As opposed to the rich haleem in Hyderabad or the kebabs of Lucknow and old Delhi, the iftar repast made by the Kokani Muslim community is fairly simple and incorporates regular everyday fare. “But the one thing that has to be had for instant energy is the paez, or porridge made with wheat flour, and at other times with rawa. If Ramadan falls during monsoon or winter months, we add methi to it for warmth,” says Khanzada. The meal draws from seasonal cooking practices followed in the Konkan coast, where every house has a baadi or a backyard full of fruit trees. Hence, the iftar meal includes papayas, mangoes, pineapples, and more. Rice is eaten in different forms, as DOODH KA CHAWAL and as chawal ki roti. Since the coast abounds in seafood, the repast includes dishes such as jhinge ka salan and haldoni, a seafood gravy to be eaten with rice or with NAARALI KHICHRI.

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