Fasting for up to 18 hours a day in summer heat that can be searing, sticky and/or stifling is no small ask. But it’s a task taken on by many British Muslims this month as they continue with the daily grind right throughout Ramadan – the Islamic calendar month that precedes Eid.
Indeed, it’s not just food they’re foregoing, but water as well. By all accounts, that lack of hydration can leave one as drained as the well-earned bottle of Evian that will be chugged down fast when the moon finally rises and the fast is broken.
Prayer keeps folks mentally focused and spiritually nourished; but it’s equally important to focus the mind on the foods you choose to nourish your body both pre- dawn and post-moonrise. Dates are de riguer of an evening; always used to break one’s fast.
If you agree to attend ‘iftar’, look forward to a thoroughly sociable shared supper. But the meal must end at a sensible hour. There may be ‘no rest for the wicked’, but the devout must observe a decent bedtime so that they’re rested for ‘sehri’ (also known as ‘suhoor’ in Arabic) – the incredibly early-morning meal eating which sees one through daylight hours.
Whatever your faith, colour or creed, discovering the dishes associated with religious festivals offer a delicious way to deepen your understanding of a community outside your own. Accordingly, I asked some of my foodie friends to share their sehri and iftar ideas – read on and relish Ramadan….
The entrepreneurial founder of Lovedesh, a philanthropic brand for ‘third world’ nations, and charity Amcariza Foundation chooses a Sylheti staple as the most brilliant way to break fast. Kacha chana is a low-hassle, high-protein, taste-packed treat – a rare example of a supper that’s simultaneously simple and sumptuous.
Soaking raw (‘kacha’) split peas (‘chana’) overnight requires forethought, but that’s about the extent of the effort involved with this delicious and delicate dish. The softened pulses are simply mixed with ginger and shallot slivers, coriander, and lemon juice; seasoned with salt; and served. Perfect pre-prayer fare.
Top TEDx speaker Masarat likes nothing better than sharing her opinions, ponderings and traditions with all she encounters; and that extends to the iftar she prepares to send to 15 families. She keeps sehri simple – a mug of masala chai, a paratha and the last of iftari leftovers.
Iftar itself recalls the Ramadan rituals of her childhood; each evening uniting the family over the fried besan and mung dal pakoras that were eaten only during the holy month. Masarat reserved the most relish for besan-battered potato slices – and her mother’s fresh watermelon juice.
Masarat speaks of iftars in the UAE as feasts featuring fruit chaat, biryani, meat salaans and more. In London, she invites people over for iftar – saying a warm ‘salaam’ to the guests lucky enough to savour the flavour of her home-cooked hospitality.
The Kuwait-based founder of beautiful food and travel blog ‘Journey Kitchen’ says that sehri is a simple affair in her household, generally something light and simple like anda bhurji or poha – or the egg-topped meat casserole ‘lagan ni seekh’ if something substantial is sought.
Depending on the day, iftar might be a full feast featuring meat samosas and decadent date halwa for dessert. Post-meal, a digestive drink like Rooh Afza or tangy raw mango ‘aam panna’ helps to cool the tummy.
In India, Darjeeling Express founder Asma would eagerly await the call to prayer which signalled the end of the day’s fast with her extended family. Now she lives in London, the supperclub host distributes festive home-cooked fare to distribute to friends – as well as the hundreds that attend the open iftar at SOAS’ Ramadan Tent Project where she volunteers.
One of Asma’s most moving memories through offering this iftar is of a homeless man thanking her for the lassi that finally provided him with a taste of the mangoes he’d seen so often but never experienced. The mango also made an appearance in Asma’s childhood sehri – in the form of the smoothie-esque ‘aam dudh’; although these days she fills up on Fruit’n’Fibre cereal.
Asma always associates nimbu pani – fresh lemonade – with iftar eating, its sweet-salt balance boosting blood sugar and helping hydrate the body. Fresh-fried, fulsome phulki (lentil pakoras) provide sustenance and satisfaction; each bite both boasting a cracking crunchy munch and packing in the protein.
Momtaz Begum Hossain
As editor of Asiana Digital and a craft blogger, Momtaz most often breaks fast at her desk. But as a youngster, iftar was an adventurous affair often shared with the Bangladeshi community in her hometown. Tupperware would be swapped, filled with food from friends and neighbours.
Momtaz recalls fantastic feasts comprising edible gifts from multiple fellow Muslims; made up of muri, shingaras, vegetable bhajis and dry spiced chana. Meltingly soft begun bhajia (deep-fried battered aubergine slices) was her firm favourite… along with pasta salad from the one family who preferred to provide Western khana.
You’ll find recipes from both the Polish and Pakistani parts of Mehrunnisa’s heritage on her blog, Come Con Ella; but it’s the latter that matters when it comes to her Ramadan recollections. Although she no longer fasts, her ideal iftar would be dinner at Dishoom.
If iftar were to occur at home, Mehrunnisa would opt for pea-studded beef keema scooped with red-hot roti, a masala omelette, or dal. She has fond memories of her mother’s half-moon-shaped baked vegetable samosas, silky-soft shami kebabs and seasonal fruit chaat. Although uncertain over her aunt’s claims that it’s beneficial to health, badam ka sharbat is a firm favourite.
As one of the minds behind the ‘Haloodies’ Halal food brand, Noman is mindful of the need to feed the family wisely and well during Ramadan. He’s a big meat man, and is a fan of his Mum’s home-cooked keema and chicken, packing in more protein with chana chaat.
Noman’s happy to share his family’s customary dishes with those unaccustomed to his mother’s meals; often sharing iftar with friends and vice versa. He rarely eats out during Ramadan, preferring to break his fast with the lovingly-cooked fare which, he claims, makes him break into a great big grin.
Along with copious quantities of liquid, Noman stays hydrated with fruit salad. For sehri he pops parathas along with eggs, keema or shami kebabs; enjoying the excuse to indulge in festive fare before morning prayer.
The Tandoori magazine editor and restaurant consultant is a discerning diner who’s learned the tricky art of finding food that’s both filling and nutritious. And if it’s also delicious, then Humayun’s a happy chap. Although fasting doesn’t often feature in his life nowadays, in the past he’d plump for paratha and eggs for sehri, washed down with water to keep thirst at bay through the day.
At moonrise, Humayun might make a date shake, blending in a banana to bump up the nutrients. He prefers dining on ‘dry’ items like samosa, pakora and kebabs than gravied dishes, serving the snacks with a kachumber-style salad and finishing with a fresh fruit chaat to cool and soothe the system.
Pakistani food writer Sumayya Usmani shares many Ramadan recollections on her blog, My Tamarind Kitchen, along with recipes for dishes like ‘khagina‘, the spiced scrambled eggs she loves to serve for sehri along with a pile of parathas. Early morning eating in Karachi would often include full-bodied, full-cream buffalo yogurt – just fine, she opines, topped with sweet nutty jaggery.
Sumayya’s maternal recipe for dahi baras (soft lentil dumplings immersed in cool yogurt, zinged and blinged with spices and sauces), is an iftar essential. The aroma takes her back to treasured family times, and the taste takes her straight to heaven. For something more substantial, Sumayya makes her mum’s kala chanay tossed with poppy seeds and red onion – the tiny black chickpeas far more flavoursome than the large white ‘kabli’ chana.
If you happen to be in Hyderabad, streetfood sleuth Chowder Singh suggests Shah Ghouse for splendid versions of Hyderabadi biryani, paya and haleem. If you’re too chicken to chance classic mutton haleem, Chowder suggests you try a poultry-based preparation from Lajawab in Barkas.
For the sweet toothed, he suggests popping to Pune for heavenly halwa paratha from roving mithai-walla Salim bhai’s stall which pitches up in Shivaji Market in Camp for the month of Ramadan. Go hungry – you’ll need to open wide to fit in the metre-wide paratha that’s served with the semolina sweetmeat!
Hungry for more? Hop on the Foodaholix Haleem Trail…
If haleem – that ghee-rich, silky stew of meat’n’wheat – is your idea of heaven, get thee to the home of this delicacy, Hyderabad. Failing that, follow Foodaholix’s ‘Haleem Trail’ blogpost series – in which roving reporters sample the seasonal delicacy at various outlets, rating and slating as they scoff.
- To read more on Ramadan’s edible rituals, click here.