We often find it too easy to hurtle through the days, in an attempt to outpace the bustling city – be it London or Bombay – which always seems to be running away like a steam-engine train on a rickety track.
Occasionally, it does us good to pause for thought, to disembark the carriage and sit on the platform awhile. The last few weeks have seen millions of Muslims across India and around the world, from Bombay to London, take the time to reflect, pray and taste the essence of a simpler life. In observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, our Muslim brothers and sisters refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, devote time to prayer and to the giving of alms. In Islam, Ramadan holds special significance as the month when the first chapters of the holy Qur’an were first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The morning starts early, too early, when healthy adult Muslims wake and make their way downstairs. First, some eggs, toast or some porridge, perhaps, and always plenty of water to nourish and sustain for the day ahead. Then, recite the morning prayers. The day may be altogether routine: filled with meetings and laughter, emails and quizzical expressions, with small breaks for prayer. But when it is time to return home, when the sun begins to set, the family gathers together. With the bite of a juicy date, that first sip of water upon parched lips, with family and friends and loved ones, the fast is broken and it is time to remember the things that matter. In Hyderabad they eat the traditional Ramadan dish of Haleem – a thick, smooth stew of pounded wheat, lentils and lamb, cooked for many hours and spiced delicately.
The culmination of Ramadan in a week or so will bring with it a day of festivity known as Eid-Ul-Fitr. Following a communal prayer, Muslims take time to visit extended friends and family, give children gifts of money known as ‘Eidie’. A three-day-long affair in many Muslim countries, new clothes are tailor-made, planned for many weeks in advance. A time to enjoy one another’s company after a month of relative austerity, Eid is a cherished and celebratory affair. Veritable feasts are held and the food is rich – Biryani, rich with saffron, Nihari, steaming with chillis. And of course, Haleem.
In the spirit of reflection, of getting off the train and sitting on the platform awhile, we have some dates set aside for those who are fasting to break their fast (just ask!) We will also have a small amount of Haleem every day as a special this week. We’re also doing a special Eid Feast next week.
And good luck with the rest of the fasting!
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.