Thursday, 9 August 2012

A Basic Guide to Ramazan Food in Kashmir

This Ramazan is the hottest and the longest we have seen in Kashmir since the armed militancy began. Typically Kashmir has longer days (the period of sunlight from dawn to dusk) than India and Pakistan. The first day of Ramazan the fast lasted from 3:55 a.m. to 7:48 p.m. 

 It isn’t easy to wake up so early on most days, and then to get up early enough in order to have a meal ready is quite another issue. Come to think of it, it’s another blessing of Ramadan that you can dine at that early an hour – in other months it would appear too cumbrous to do.

 If you are a Kashmiri or hoping to spend your Ramadan in Kashmir there are a few basics for a perfect Kashmiri Ramazan, food-wise.

 In Kashmir, just like other meals, Sehri (the pre-dawn meal) is considered incomplete without rice. In Kashmiri psyche, you are not eating at all if you are not eating rice. Or you are plainly awkward. The next step in a typical Kashmiri Sehri is tea. Not just any tea, but the special Kashmiri pink tea. Nun chai (salted tea). The tea is accompanied by the geow-dar csot (bread made with ghee). It is a Ramazan speciality in Kashmir, made only during this month. In other months, it is prepared on order.

Geow-dar csot
 There is a lot of guzzling down of water these days, knowing that the day is going to be long and hot. Or lassi (a frothy liquid made by whisking curd and water), if you like it. In Kashmir the lassi is salty, unlike its Punjabi cousin which is sweet.

 The streets are much less crowded. A lot of people don’t come out till it’s necessary. A lot of them chew meswak and spit on the road. A lot of girls take to wearing hijab for this month. The road-side eateries stay closed during the day. Even on the Khayyam road, which is famous for its barbeque shops, the shops would open only around Asr prayers (afternoon prayers). Many shops are veiled behind curtains during the day, allowing those who are not fasting to dine in secrecy. If you are observant enough, you’ll see some people talking on their phones while hovering around these shops looking for an easy entry.

 Since in Ramazan you wouldn’t be looking for mid-day snacking, it comes as no surprise that most of the street vendors open their stalls late, at around Iftaar. However, make no mistake! By that time the bakery shops in Srinagar have been swept clean of all produce. We sure,  love our bakeries. In the nooks of crowded markets, like Dalgate, the smells and sounds of frying all mix together to produce a spicy atmosphere where hawkers compete with each other for customers. Same goes for those who set up stalls outside shrines where the aromas of the fritters mix with those of the offerings brought in by the disciples. The barbeque vendors singe their spices as they fan away the smoke rising from the coals, and the pickle sellers patiently wait behind their vats of scarlet coloured pickles.

The Iftaar in most houses again follows a set pattern. Basil seeds which have been left in water till they have swollen well are mixed with water, milk and sugar, the sherbet here is called Babribeoul treish. And the mandatory dates, of course. True to the minute, the muezzins in all the mosques call out for Iftaar thrice, followed by the shrieks of kids in the mohalla doing the same (which they do out of their own goodwill, of course).

a jug of Babribeoul treish

The Iftaar is followed by dinner. And the dinner by taraweeh. The taraweeh by tea. Lipton tea, as we call it here.

 For any good deed the reward in Ramazan is multiplied by seventy. And so, charity is common in all Muslim societies. People, here, distribute dates or halva or phireen (a kind of semolina pudding) or sherbet of milk and basil seeds in mosques for Iftaar. And to the neighbours, and also to the gatherings on Shab Qadr. Watch out for these goodies! The Halva with a generous sprinkling of poppy seeds (khashkhaash) is traditionally distributed on by a csot, which acts like an eatable platter. But modernity has brought in the aluminium foil boxes and disposable plates.


There seems to be no end to the blessings in Ramadan. Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, "When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened." May this Ramadan usher in for us a period of blessings and abundance.



PS: This post appeared on The Kashmir Monitor. Read here.

6 comments:

  1. A beautiful, evocative piece of writing. How true it is, as anyone who knows the Valley well will testify!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds great! I love the look of the Geow-dar csot - it reminds me of a paratha. Is it stuffed? I've yet to taste Kashmiri tea - it sounds delicious. Congratulations on a well written post. Here, in N. America, the days are long too - first day started at 4am and ended at 8.35 pm and ours is nothing compared to further north - where iftar is 9.30-10 pm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment. Glad to know that you liked the post. The geow-dar csot is much different from a paratha actually. And no, it is not stuffed. The ghee goes in preparing the dough, and it is made in an oven. Unlike a paratha which is prepared on a tava.

      Delete
  3. A very nice piece of writing.
    And yes, if you don't eat rice, you have had nothing : typical kashmir. Also some may think that you are perhaps, sick!!... :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, sir. What, I ask, would we ever do without rice (batt)?

      Delete
  4. Good work...!!! ALLAH BLESS ...!!!

    ReplyDelete

If you were here, drop a line.