The festival of Eid al-Fitr (literally “the Celebration of the Breaking of the Fast”) marks the conclusion of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month where restraint and discipline must be practised. The rituals of Ramadan are a spiritual and a physical cleansing; the act of fasting cultivates the qualities of gratitude, generosity and empathy.
But Ramadan is equally synonymous with feasting. Iftar – the meal with which Muslims break their fast – is an occasion for eating rich foods and indulging in the naughtiness of deep-fried snacks after a day of restraint. In Bombay, Ramadan means brisk business for purveyors of delicacies like meat-stuffed samosas, pakoras and brightly-coloured coils of jalebi. At the end of each day families gather around the table, and once the sun sets they can at last break their fast, a ritual which draws them together and renews their bonds.
Finally, Eid al-Fitr is declared upon the sighting of the new moon; the occasion is welcomed with joy after a month of austerity. The morning begins with communal prayer at the local mosque. Families proudly don their specially-made new clothes; children compare their finery. Girls show off henna patterns on their hands and the pretty bangles chosen to match their clothes. Families give money or gifts known as Eidie to children. And of course, there is food. Lots and lots of food.
Every family has its own traditions and specialities, treasured recipes handed down through the generations. Preparations start days in advance, each dish prepared with love and care. The tables at Eid luncheons groan under the weight of sumptuous rice dishes, aromatic with whole spices and studded with meat, kormas whose gravies are rich with cream or yoghurt, nihari (slow-cooked lamb in a silky gravy), roasted meats, vegetables and lentil dishes.
These feasts last for hours; returning for seconds, thirds and fourths, every family member is helpless to resist the draw of their favourite dish. And after a month of fasting, the joys of feasting in daylight cannot be curbed. Finally, once the platters are picked clean, the meal is concluded with an array of rich desserts like slow-simmered kheer (rice pudding) and dhoodh seviyan (a milky pudding of vermicelli) with a scattering of blanched almonds, perhaps anointed with silver leaf.
Perhaps the most celebrated delicacy eaten at Eid is Haleem, a rich traditional dish of lamb, cracked wheat and lentils, cooked for many hours and pounded. The reverence in which Haleem is held brings the joy of Eid out of the home, into the community and beyond. It evolved from the Middle Eastern dish Harees, a thick savoury porridge; Harees became Haleem thanks to the influence of Aga Hussain Zabed, owner of the Madina Hotel in Hyderabad and a member of the same Irani community which founded the legendary cafés in Bombay. As the popularity of the Haleem grew, the Hyderabadi chefs most skilled at preparing it gained national reputations, and spread their speciality across the country. Today, it is famed across India for its rich flavour; the complex cooking process means it is usually enjoyed at feasts and celebrations – and especially at Eid.
I am always struck by the comforting unity of Eid customs – the gathering of family, the new clothes, the giving of gifts, the generosity of spirit and of course, the plentiful food. The devotion with which families prepare each Iftar feast, the care taken on each sumptuous dish for the Eid table, the extra jalebi sneaked onto the plate however much you protest that you’re full – these are all tangible expressions of love.
And at its heart, Eid truly is a celebration of love, and of togetherness. This Eid, as every other, I am looking forward to celebrating at home with my family and most beloved friends, and preparing a grand feast for them. Food is love. Both must be given freely.
In the spirit of the celebration, Chef Naved has prepared the delightful Eid special of Sheer Khurma – fine vermicelli noodles, almonds, pistachios, cashews and coconut flakes are slow-simmered in milk with dates and raisins for delicate sweetness. This rich, creamy pudding is a sure way to celebrate this most auspicious of dates and is available in our cafés from 25th April until 8th May.
Even the most orderly of hosts can fray under the demands of preparing a successful barbecue. To prevent this, we have provided some crowd pleasing side dish ideas that will both pair optimally with our Barbecue Box and provide popularity with friends and family. Do read on for easy-to-follow recipes.
We’re delighted to have taken part in Dialogues of Diaspora’s new series. Especially as it meant spending time and chatting with our dear friend, the brilliant and effervescent, Shalina Patel. She’s also kindly taken a quick moment to share more on ‘unexpected’ moments in South Asian and British history below. Read on here.
A sudden wide smile. Grateful eyes. Thoughtfully selected gifts adored. For those seeking the smug satisfaction of gifting the very-best Father’s Day gift – peruse below. Socks and slippers (though essential) do not feature. Instead, the Dishoom Store stocks a range of rather charming gifts that will guarantee you continue to be the best-loved child.
Our wonderful friends at Dialogues of Diaspora have done something awesome. Get ready to sit-down and listen-in to eye-opening conversations in their brand-new three-part series which sheds a unique light on the South Asian Diaspora. They unpack interesting views on identity, history, music, fashion – share untold stories and ask thought-provoking questions. We’re so excited to be involved and extremely humbled to be in such talented and wonderful company. Watch Episode One here.