Recreating a Deshi Iftar
"You know we only have 45 minutes before iftar,” called out my husband from downstairs. “Yes, I know but I really want some haleem”, I shouted back almost petulantly like some spoilt child wanting her candy. “If we leave right now, we might just make it back in time,” called out my poor husband who by this time had realised that he was fighting a losing battle. You would not have believed the speed at which I made it to the front door, ready to go and pick up my long awaited haleem. I think even my husband was surprised that someone who had up until then become slightly lethargic and energy less due to lack of food could have miraculously recovered as quickly as I did! Drummond Street is in an area not too far from where we live and has an array of food shops and restaurants mostly all from our part of the world. My return from Drummond Street found me laden with my precious haleem and some mishti. As there are a couple of sweet shops there, I could not resist buying a box of Rasmalai and another box of rasgolla for iftar. Given a chance I would have stayed longer and probably bought some bhelpuri, shingara and whole lot of other things as well but as we were on a time constraint, I had to leave it for another time.
Ramadan in London nowadays is not as bad as it used to be many years ago. I love the fact that these days, if you want to eat peaju, you can buy the daal and make it at home, or if you want to have some daal puri, parathas, samosas etc. but do not have a clue how to make them, you can buy them ready made. The only skill required is to be able to take it out of its packaging and fry it! That is truly convenient. Nowadays you can find almost any type of food that you want to regardless of whether it is the ingredients or the actual food item itself. A while ago the thought of pre-packaged frozen parathas would have appalled me and I would have turned up my nose at any paratha that had not been made from scratch. But now if you happen to open my freezer, you will probably find a couple of packets of frozen paratha sitting on the shelf. The reason being that a) they taste perfectly good and b) they take a couple of minutes to make. No hassle and no mess (I sound like a television ad). When you have kids, sometimes you have to try and find ways of making efficient use of your time. I agree that I would love to be able to serve things like homemade parathas or daal puri but to be honest the time you need to invest is not always available. I am just grateful that these days these food items are even available.
I remember when we were living in Germany; I used to break my fast with a sandwich and not a very inspiring one at that and a far cry from the iftar that we get in Bangladesh. So the fact that I can have a proper iftar is a bonus to me. When I was growing up in London, it was not very easy to find food items like daal, masala, achar or even basmati rice. Today all I need to do is walk down to my local supermarket and most of these items are readily available and for slightly more specialised produce such certain types of fish or vegetables these can be found in the Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani shops that are scattered around London.
It's funny how certain foods have become synonymous with the month of Ramadan. For example when do we ever go to the trouble of making peaju except for this particular month or how often do we actually eat dates or have a bowl of boot? However, people do adapt to the environment they are in and if that means having a sandwich for iftar or a bowl of soup, then that is just what you get used to (does not mean you have to relish it!).
It was fun going to Drummond Street just before iftar as it seemed that like us a lot of other people had decided to pop down and buy some things for iftar as well. The shop selling haleem also offered kebabs, payaa, nehari etc. while the sweet shop had an assortment of delicious looking confectionary. I was quite curious about a particular one and when I asked the sales assistant, he told me they were 'chocolate barfis'! Despite my curiosity, I refrained from indulging myself any further and stuck to the two types of mishtis I had already chosen. Having said that I did add a few pistachio barfis at the last minute telling myself that my son would be very happy as he is rather partial to them. Nothing to do with the fact that I have a penchant for them myself! Further along the road is a grocery shop that sells rice, daal, masala, fruit and vegetable from the Sub Continent, all types of condiments including items such as gur (molasses) and tetul (tamarind). It is a literal treasure trove for someone looking to buy ingredients to cook a curry or something deshi. There are also a few Indian restaurants on Drummond Street, some of which serve purely vegetarian dishes. I recall frequenting these places when I was at university. In fact it used to be a very popular place for students to visit as the quality of the food was good and the prices were reasonable. My husband and I have returned there on numerous occasions and the bhel puri, dosa and kulfis are still just as good. Sadly there was not enough time to indulge myself as we were trying to get home on time for iftar.
All I can say is that most of us are incredibly lucky as we are fortunate enough to have food on the table every day. I can sit and moan about not wanting sandwiches for iftar and have the ability to eat what I want to. I wanted haleem and hey presto, I got it. Ramadan is meant to teach us self control and remind us of the suffering of the people less fortunate than us and I think most of us do count our blessings and there are many to be thankful for.
I think I can hear my haleem calling out for me as it almost time for iftar so I will leave you and wish all the readers of Star Weekend Magazine a very happy Eid.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006