On a Ramzan food trail

It’s that time of the year when the devout wakes up before the sun rises and has food to sustain him or her for the day (Sehri). They then fast all day without food and water and once the sun sets break the fast (Iftar).

One of the lessons that Ramzan teaches us is to be grateful for everything and there is no better time in the year to celebrate the bounty of nature and kitchen.

When it comes to Ramzan food, Karnataka shows great diversity — the cosmopolitan environment of Bengaluru, the old-school charm of the Mysore region, the ocean delights of the coast and the rustic north all contribute to make the state’s dastar quan (cloth, often decorated, to keep food on) a gastronomical adventure.

Yes, one can find a wide range of dishes on the platter this month — from the oriental cuisine to the West Asian and even pizzas and burgers but what we will explore here is the state’s own goodness.

Southern bliss

Here we see the diversity in Bengaluru and good-old Mysuru food. The Iftar table can be divided into seasonal fruits, sherbets, fried snacks and sweets.

After a day-long fast, to quench one’s thirst one needs liquid. This comes in the form of sherbets or fruit juices.

A must on the iftar table, they are also consumed at the end of Sehri — it’s a preference. The choice of tea or coffee is also there.

When one talks about sherbets, two things stand out the Hareera (milk with almond paste) and Sabze ke bej and Katera gond (basil seeds and tragacanth gum)- based drinks. Both are milk based with the former being hot and the latter being cold.

The Irani community in Bengaluru prefers a special black tea and rice-based dishes during the Sehri.

In Mysuru, there is one speciality called the nanhari juice or sometimes referred to as the Mughaliya sherbet, again you can find many varieties in this too — a little more of that and something new, you create another variant.

The region shows variety in the same dish, for example, ‘the falooda’ made from agar agar comes in different flavours. While in Bengaluru it is milk based, in Mysuru it is water and you can find its Ragi variant too.

Speaking about the tradition, the first thing to be consumed when breaking the fast would be salt, dates and water for each of the respective Ashras (10 days of the month of Ramzan). If you visit the Shivajinagar area in Bengaluru during the 26th day of Ramzan, you can hear the banging on large tawas — anda roti (egg and roti) has become a tradition here.

A wholesome dish called aash or ganji too is made during Ramzan. Aash is a superfood that has lentils, rice and sometimes meat too. To be precise, it is somewhere between haleem (a type of stew) and soup.

In Sehri, Muslims in Bengaluru consume kushka (flavoured rice) and kurma (curry) or chapatis and prefer vegetarian curries. In Mysuru where finger millet is a staple, people consume Ragi balls with curry.

Irrespective of any region, people tend to avoid food laden with ghee during Sehri and prefer a simple breakfast. This simplicity is beautifully shown by the Bohra community, who consume only dates and maybe biscuits while breaking their fast.

Coast calling

The ocean is the coast’s provider, it has shaped the latter’s cuisine. One can see the influence from the Gulf, from shawarmas to grilled items. In Sehri, people here have rice-based products like dosas, neer dosas, rice rotis called patris with a chicken, beef or mutton-based curry. Rice balls called pundi is had with a coastal-style fish curry.

What differentiates these curries from others is the use of spices and coconut milk, and kokum as tamarind’s replacement. To hydrate, the Iftar table in this part of the state has kokum juice, tender coconut and fruit juices.

Northern flavours

The food in the northern parts of the state draws its influence from the neighbouring states— the Telugu states and Maharashtra. Since the temperature is high, spicy food helps detoxify while drinks are used to cool the body. Haleem prepared in the region has a diverse variety. Apart from seasonal fruits, Dahi vada and Mirchi bhajji get a special place on the Iftar table. Samosas have potato fillings unlike in other parts of the state where it is onion or minced meat (Kheema).

Lassi, which is sometimes flavoured, too is important. At Sehri, the curry is had with wheat or jowar rotis and buttermilk is a must. In Kalaburagi, one can find the tahari— it’s biryani’s cousin with lots of tomatoes. Guess the favourite fruit of the region? It is watermelon. It is a must here.

Biryani varieties 

The variation the state shows in this Mughal dish, which is now among the country’s favourites, is nowhere to be found. Since it is special, it is reserved for the day of Eid. In Bengaluru, you would find the Akni (Biryani broth which is taken before the rice is added and once the rice is semi-cooked it is added again) Biryani and in Mysuru, the akni is not taken out, instead the rice is added and cooked. In the coast, a green paste is used and it is a layered biryani.

A special mention is the Beary biryani, which the Beary Muslim community prepares, that has a great amount of coconut and green chillies. While in the North, the biryani is inspired by the Hyderabadi style. To add to the diversity, even Ambur biryani leaves its mark.

Sweet gifts

Ramzan’s edi (a tradition where kids get rewards, mostly money from elders) should definitely include sweets, cutting across the regions, Sheer Khurma is made in every household. In Bengaluru and Mysuru, inspired by the West, custard topped with fruits is among the favourites. Phirni and kher also make their mark. In Bidar, a must try would be a milk-based sweet where the cream is topped with mangoes and blackberries.

Keertana Ramu, a nutritionist, says that it is good to have food that is local to one’s place. “What goes into your body is always important. It is good to break your fast with sabja seeds or basil or chia seeds and dry fruits,” she suggests. Since fasting is a month-long exercise and also with soaring temperatures, she advises a simple breakfast at Sehri and more fluids during Iftar. Accordingly, seasonal delicacies are an important part of the Ramzan spread.

“Chia seeds can be added to water or tender coconut, they are coolants, antioxidants and have good fat. This along with dates can be used to break the fast. More fruits will help detoxify our body,” she says.

It must be seen that the month of Ramzan is part of the Lunar calendar. A few years ago, it came in December and now it has come in the month of May. Seasonal fruits keep changing, the preference of hot and cold keep changing but what remains is the inclusive attitude of Ramzan’s dastar quan — it accepts and welcomes all and says “ Eid Mubarak”.

 

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