Mangaluru: Assalam Alaikum! Ramadan Delicacies a Gastronomical Treat for Food Buffs

Mangaluru: Assalam Alaikum! Peace be upon you! It’s Ramadan/Ramazan time. It is once again that time of the year, when the month long festival of Ramadan, is in progress. As in India and other parts of the world, the followers of Islam fast during the daylight hours and come evening they break their fast with mouth watering dishes in this holy month. Every city, including Mangalore has its certain eateries that specialize in certain types of cuisines. If you are an adventurous eater who like restaurant food/fast food/street food, it is your month. A wide range of mouth-watering dishes …vegetarian, non-vegetarian, and sweets tempt connoisseurs across the city to devour the festival’s food points.

Fast or no fast, your search for Ramadan special food during this holy month is incomplete if you do not visit Bunder road in Mangalore. I also remember when I was working in Bangalore in the 90’s, you take a trip during Ramadan nights for an all-night-long feasting at Moore Road in Fraser Town and surrounding Shivajinagar -Not only you can smell delicious aroma of roast chicken tikka, sheek kebabs and haleem but eat them as well. You also get Camel meat specials. Shivajinagar area is one place which even in normal days is known as the foodies’ delight. In the days of Ramadan, the enthusiasm is multifold and the place teems with preparations from every part India and some international too. Surely it is not only the Islamic community who come here for giving themselves a gastronomical treat!

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But the month of Ramadan, also known as Ramzan, offers a peek into the city’s culinary past. When dusk arrives during Ramadan, with a shrill siren that signals the end of fasting, the narrow streets of Bunder/Kudroli/Falnir Road and few other spots in the City fill up fast with vendors, shoppers and food buffs. What awaits the hungry are simmering pots of biryani with a distinctly local flavor; endless bowls of haleem — a thick, spicy paste of lamb and wheat, cooked to perfection; dried apricots and fresh cream served together as the wildly popular qubani-ka-meetha; and other flavors that carry the richness of a sultan’s sumptuous meal although they have been prepared in humbler kitchens. Fresh garlic naan also goes best with haleem.

Obscure restaurants light up their signboards promising the city’s best haleem or Kichda or – certainly the most sought-after dishes at this time, partly because it’s not easily available for the rest of the year. The almond kheer – milk, rice and sugar boiled together and seasoned with saffron and almonds – is a treat. Yet another dessert during this Holy month is Phirinis, available exclusively at Bombay Lucky Restaurant (BLR), Bunde and few other restaurants -this dessert is made of sugar, milk, soji, ghee and water. BLR is all famous for their Biriyani, Mutton dishes, Samosas, cutlets, chicken puffs, onion pakoras etc doing a roaring business during Ramadan, as one can see from the line of vehicles waiting for takeaway orders.

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My visit to newly opened Grand Rasoi restaurant near Highland Hospital-Falnir, where the manager was kind enough to serve me some samples of their delicious Ramadan food- From Samosa (meat/fish/veg) to haleem, chicken grilled items, phirni, pakodas and other Ramadan delicacies, they have it all. I took a peek into their kitchen, and every one was busy getting the food items ready for the evening rush.

Bombay Lucky Restaurant-Bunder has always been my favorite late night, sometimes during the wee hours, restaurant to satisfy my hungry stomach with affordable priced food, after partying at those expensive pubs. Why pay over 100 bucks on a Chicken burger or Rs 200 on pork chops at pubs, when you can eat more at a reasonable price at BLR?. Two days back I was at BLR, the place was packed, I had to wait for nearly 30 minutes to get a table-even my regular customer influence didn’t work to get a table soon. When it’s booming business hours and Ramadan time, no one cares-you are just a stranger?

Earlier during the day, I had made a stop at BLR where the Managing Partners-Mohammed Yaseen and Mohammed Zameer were kind enough to explain to me some of the Ramadan specials, and also allowed me to take peek into their kitchen. Samosas were piled up at every nook and corner of the restaurant, freshly prepared Phirini dessert was stacked up on plates on the table. I could also get the aroma of biriyani and other delicious mutton and chicken items. When I asked the partners like how many samosas sell during Ramadan nights-both were reluctant to give me a specific figures. “Few thousands of them, and sometimes we sell them all within few hours” was their reply.

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Yes, the festival of Ramadan is a great favourite of food lovers in Mangaluru. They seem to welcome it as fervently as devout Muslims, though for reasons other than piety. By early evening areas around prominent mosques near Tagore Park Lighthouse, Kankanady market, Kudroli, Hampankatta (Behind Milagres Church) and Bunder Road among others begin to buzz with anticipation. Aromas of freshly cooked special Ramadan delicacies in various stalls begin to mingle for a heady sensuousness.

Food shops jostle for space and some encroach the pavements as the number of Ramadan items is considerably more than usual. Push carts heaped with freshly prepared samosas, alluring dates, bakery cookies and fresh fruits choke some of the prominent roads when Muslim folks hang around much. City Central market fruit vendors have piled up varieties of fresh, as well as dry fruits like dates, almonds, apricots etc. Not that anyone is complaining about this joyous jumble. A great existential question that exercises the minds of the believers is which is the best first food to break your fast with?

A great existential question that exercises the minds of the believers is which is the best first food to break your fast with? There is no unanimity. Some go for fruits, others swear by samosas. “It is dates,” firmly avers the venerable looking Razak M, a coir merchant “It is gentle on the fasting belly, loaded with energy and minerals and possibly the one the Prophet himself preferred,” he said while munching on dates.

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After that first morsel the fasting bellies have a lot to contend with, and if they groan it must be out of sheer joy. Freshly grilled tandoori chicken gleam in anticipation at the specially set up food court in Forum Fiza mall, near Pandeshwar. Succulent kababs of every flavour suspended in long garlanded animation crave for attention. Wouldn’t be out of place to mention that two fast food restaurants near City Hospital-Kadri Road, in fact just a few blocks from my house, produce a mind-numbing varieties of kababs?

Steaming biriyanis of heavenly flavour fly off the huge pots in no time. So is another Ramadan favorite, the haleem which is basically mutton mince and pounded wheat slow cooked with masalas. It is a Ramadan special and only available in the festive season. Muslims wait all year to savour it. Paranthas of mince meat and eggs are another of the season’s top choices. Even the lowly samosas come out in various avatars and stuffings, the ones with kheema the most sought after.

Various halwas, sweets and misty dois (sweet curds) are also in the list. Harira, a sweet payasam-like preparation is another of the holy month’s offerings. Quick witted city dwellers make their purchases before the believers pour out of the mosques after evening prayers and clean up the food stalls! So if you are in town during this festive month, move it and go on a gastronomical expedition which is worth every rupee you spend. Luckily, the Ramadan food is happily affordable- No need to cry all the way to the ATMs.

The irrationality of mankind is baffling. Why can’t everyone feast in the evenings on all one wants and atone for it with day long fasting next day, all the year long? Why don’t we grab this ‘Health and Heaven’ offer with both hands? Let’s not go hungry during Ramadan. Bon Appetit!

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