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.
*The below information refers to our 2013 events – for information on this year’s celebrations, click here*
In the spirit of the celebration, we’re serving a special Eid feast – featuring Haleem – from Wednesday 7th August (when Eid is likely to begin – depending on the moon’s sighting, of course).
And on Sunday 11th August (2pm-4pm), we invite you to come and celebrate Eid with us at Dishoom Shoreditch. There’ll be a storytelling by Shamim Azad, plenty of Mithai, mehndi (henna), Carrom, meetha Paan and lashings of Chai. We really hope you can make it.
In the meantime, we wish Ramadan Kareem to all our brothers and sisters. May your prayers and fasts be accepted, and may the blessings you receive fill your life with happiness and open all the doors to success.
(During Ramadan we’re serving Nihari as a special, and we’ll have some dates available every day to break your fast – just ask!)
All chicken and lamb served at Dishoom is always sourced from HFA-certified suppliers.
We began working with Magic Breakfast in 2015, supporting them in their goal of ending hunger as a barrier to education in the UK. Over the years, we’ve developed lasting and loyal friendships with the incredible team and their partner schools. This month, we celebrate reaching the milestone of donating 10 million meals to hungry children in partnership with Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra. Magic Breakfast’s Head of Schools, Rachael Anderson, has kindly taken the time to reflect on the last six years of our work together, as well as sharing her thoughts on the profound impact the past twelve months have had.
Since 2015, for every Dishoom meal you’ve enjoyed (whether in the cafés, via delivery, or as a meal kit), we’ve donated a meal to a child that might otherwise go hungry. A meal for a meal. This month, as we reached the milestone of donating 10 million meals, we had occasion to catch up with our dear friends and long-term charity partners, Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra. The work both charities do to end hunger as a barrier to education is simply incredible and we’re extremely proud to be able to support them and the communities they serve in the UK and India, respectively. We kindly invite you to take a moment to hear their reflections on our partnership and on the impact of the very important work they do.
Uttapam are a fluffy savoury dosa, made with rice. They're usually enjoyed with savoury toppings but we particularly like ours with lashings of jaggery syrup and a thick, strained yoghurt. Chef Naved has shared his recipe for making an extra fluffy stack at home.
Our Old-Fashioned bottled cocktail takes its name from the Permit Room bar, found in every Dishoom and so named after the official term for all Bombay drinking establishments, in which, according to the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949, only permit-holders may consume alcohol. Herein, liquor can be sold and imbibed, but only for the goodness of one’s health.
Though the doors of the Permit Room are closed for now, you can still enjoy our tipples in bottled form at home. Follow our lead to achieve the perfect pour, and transport yourself back to a cosy corner of the bar.