Eid-ul-Fitr, literally means the Feast or Festival of Breaking the Fast in Arabic. The smell of new clothes, the tinkle of colorful glass bangles, the joy of hugging fellow humans, and of course, the breaking of the rigorous month long fast, mark the day of Eid.
Being a non-muslim, with few muslim friends, the entire month of Ramadan, and the day of Eid was never really a thing that I could celebrate with much zest. My only connection with it was via our apartment’s caretaker, Nanku. Since the time I remember, he has been extremely old and frail, but whenever asked about how old he he was, he would say forty years (he was stuck at forty from my age of five years to twenty-five years). He was one my best friends in my growing up years and I used to see him wearing new, starched kurta- pajamas every Eid to go to the Mosque to pray. On his way back, he would get a box of sweets for me, the extra sugary ‘Danadaars’, which I used to love! In the afternoon, after his lunch, he would cook Seviyan, or Sheer Khurma (vermicelli pudding cooked in milk, with nuts and dry fruits), on his coal stove, and I would wait eagerly for that too. The smoky flavor from the coal, made it so much better, that the ‘Shimai Payesh’, that my mother would make. And the only other remote connection would be to slurp on bowls of piping hot, rich Halim, sprinkled with caramelized onions, near New Market, during the month of Ramadan, on my way back from shopping sprees.
But thankfully this year, I ventured to Zakaria Street, in the Nakhoda Masjid area of Kolkata, for a food walk, to sample the various treats available during Ramadan Evenings. From Beef Halim, to Spicy Fried Fish, to Chicken Changezi- I had it all. One interesting thing was the ‘Suta Kebab’, or the ‘Sutli Kebab’, where the super soft mince is tied to the skewers, with a string, lest it falls off.
We drove clear of fresh fruits and dry fruits and dived for the Meat Samosas instead. The beautiful Sweet Buns and Baked Fluffy Biscuits were on offer too. I also saw a man selling ‘Charbi Fry’, which is just fried beef fat, but somehow gave it a miss, as it did not look particularly appetizing. However the Jalebis and the Firnis weren’t to be missed. This walk through the stalls wasn’t the end. We ended the expedition with a proper sit down dinner of Chicken Biriyani, Mutton Chaanp and sealed the deal with an exquisite piece of Shahi Tukda. Ah, now that was a good day indeed.
The Muslim generally break the fast with dates and something sweet, like Sevaiyan, accompanied by sweet, spiced tea. Healthier options like the Dahi Vada, are also popular. Lunch, a meal which the pious have skipped for a month is resumed grandly with Koftas, Kormas, Kebabs, and Biriyani. Clove and Cardamom are the two spices used liberally in most of the dishes, along with aromatics, like the Rose Water and the Kewra Essence.
In many places, specially in North India, the tradition of Traamis, still continues on Eid, in many families. Traamis are huge copper plates used for eating together in groups, generally of four. Infact, on my trip to Udaipur, Rajasthan, I saw scores of people sitting on the streets, huddled around Traamis, and breaking their daily fast, during Ramadan with what looked like Meat Khichdi, cooked in enormous vessels on the street itself, over wood-fire.
And yes, if its Eid, there’s the famous red syrup, the Rooh-afza too. Be it in a drink with just ice cold water, or in Faloodas, its presence is a must in most Eid celebrations.
After a month of abstinence, Eid is a celebration in which food is undoubtedly a focus. So Happy Eid Happy eating folks!