Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar is when observers of Islam fast from sunrise to sunset. A sip of water and morsel of food during the fast are strictly avoided. It is believed that fasting teaches patience, modesty, and spirituality. Meals served prior to sunrise—Sehri— and after sunset—Iftar—are gleefully enjoyed with family and friends.
Let us learn a few things about the two meals the believers have each day through the month. Sehri, the meal before sunrise, is usually a simple, non-spicy affair. Milk or tea is consumed with biscuits, cakes, butter-jam sheermal, eggs, porridge, poha, dried fruits, and nuts. Fresh fruit juice and milkshakes are a contemporary addition to the menu, given the energy boost and hydration the body requires to fast till iftar. Roza is typically broken after sunset with dates and water. This is usually followed by a platter of seasonal fruits as well as almonds, cashew, raisins, apricots and pistachios. Water gives way to colourful sherbet (milk with rose syrup being one of the most visible at iftars).
Sehri is always hearty, healthy meal. It may be mentioned that Sehri needs to be such that it provides enough energy and keeps you hydrated. Yoghurt keeps you hydrated throughout the day. Salty food and caffeinated drinks should be avoided. Sehri ends right before the sun rises and when morning prayers begin. As the sun sets, Maghrib prayer starts and fast is broken with iftar. Some people break their fast by eating dates before the iftar meal. People can consume food and juices before Sehri.
In Iftar, fruits should be consumed. Dates are excellent to break the fast as it instantly gives energy and hydrate quickly. Hydrating vegetable such as cucumber should be consumed as it keeps your body cool. High sugar and fried foods should not be consumed. Carbonated drinks should also be avoided. Coconut is one of the good choices as it keeps a person hydrated.
Both sehri and iftar meals contain fresh fruit, vegetables, halal meats, bread, cheeses, and sweets. I try to keep my Ramadan very light and full of fibre, proteins, and complex carbs. When Ramadan is during hot summer months, I also focus on hydrating foods, says Amanda Saab of the blog Amanda’s Plate. The types of food served to vary by region, whether you’re in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North America, or beyond. The meals are served either at home with family, in the community mosques, or other designated places within the Muslim community.
During iftar, a variety of tasty snacks are cooked. Meals usually include spicy vegetable or paneer fritters, spicy fruit chaat, dal, dates, and sometimes fruit custard, says Kaif Khan of the blog Quirk Kitchen. Khan also calls out a special rosy pink syrup called Rooh Afza, made from a mix of ingredients including coriander, orange, pineapple, carrot, rose petals, spinach, and mint. No Ramadan is complete without a bottle of Rooh Afza. This drink is a staple in our house for iftar. Usually, it is prepared with the addition of just water and lime — another version is a Rooh Afza lassi, she says.
Apart from chicken biryani, there are innumerable famous food items that are cherished during this holy month. In India, dahi vada—lentil dumplings soaked in a spicy yoghurt sauce—are very authentic. Haleem is a slow-cooked stew of meat, lentils, and wheat is preferred. Ramazan kebab is a recipe made out of lamb, onions, yoghurt, and pita bread; this is eaten mostly in Turkey. On the other hand, in North Africa, full medammes is preferred; it is a delicious dish consisting of fava beans that are cooked with garlic and enjoyed with bread. In Lebanon and Arab countries, Fattoush is a salad prepared using vegetables and pita bread. In the Middle East, Konafah is enjoyed. Konafah is a pastry made with filo dough and cheese. In India, kolak—a fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf—is also cherished. To this recipe, fruits, such as jackfruit and banana or mung beans are added for more taste.
In India, every city has that one particular place where people gather for iftar. Moreover, over the last few years, the majority of people have opened their doors to guests for the authentic iftar meal. Among these people, home-chef Nafsia Kapadia is a known name. Guests can experience seven-course traditional Bohri meal while seating around the platter, i.e., thaal at her home in South Bombay.
My deep passion for cooking motivates me, says Farida Kutianawala. Kebabs, biryani, nalli nihari with shirmal, khichda, malai khaja, falooda, and many more dishes are listed out on the menu.
The Big Spread, the brainchild of home-chef Farida Kutianawala, hosts authentic iftar dinners. Here, meals start with dessert followed by savouries. Two rounds of food are served here. Specialities of this place include bheja cutlets, smoked tandoori lamb chop, chicken cream tikka, naan, mango malai firni, and malpua jalebi with rabdi.
Twenty years ago, Naseem launched Shabeena Naseem’s Kitchen in Delhi, to provide mouth-watering Awadhi biryani and kebabs to her hungry customers. Shabeena Naseem never referred to a recipe book all her life. Yet, growing up in Lucknow, she learnt the best Awadhi dishes as a little girl from her mother. Over the years, Naseem has earned herself a name in Delhi, so people come looking for her from far afield. Her south Delhi kitchen begets clients from Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, apart from the rest of Delhi. Many of them also carry my food abroad, she says.