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Fasting and Feasting in Pune

During the holy month of Ramzan Muslims world over fast from sunrise to sunset. When the sun does set it is time for celebration with a grandiose spread of Iftar. Iftar literally means breaking of the fast and the Iftar feast is special catering to the occasion.

Pune is a city 100 miles south of Mumbai with a population of 500,000. Ramzan feasting is a time when the entire city looks forward to the Muslim fare, mainly street food that is available during the festival days. The main Muslim market has moved to a larger area this year due to increase in the number of people. For 20 years the Iftar feasting was done at Mominpura which is in the heart of the Pune city. This year it has been shifted behind the grounds next to Babajan Durga Mosque.

The area is crowded, many pray in the mosque before coming for the meal. The large 2500 square foot area is enclosed with cloth carefully pinned to bamboo sticks placed firmly in the ground. There are makeshift open tables and a separate area enclosed for families. The air is warm due to the open frying of the patties and cutlets available hot and fresh.

Ramzan is the holy month of fasting. Fasting is one of the 5 duties that are required of a Muslim. Others include namaz or prayer, Haj, Holy pilgrimage and zakat, distribution of alms.

“This year is my daughter’s first fast and we are celebrating with some sweets,” says Saira Patel. Her entire family, 3 children and in-laws fast during Ramzan. Asked if it is difficult to concentrate in school while fasting for the children, she answers, “No, they get used to it and it is a privilege to fast. They eat in the morning, I give my children fruit and home food (consisting of Indian bread and vegetables) and then they can eat again around 5 or 6 in the evening. This iftar food is a treat”

The specialties of Ramzan are mutton kichada, dalcha khana and beef biriyani. Several large cooking vessels holding more than 100 gallons of various dishes are prepared each night as over 2000 people feast with family and friends.

A wide assortment of food is available at reasonable prices and every night a new dish can be had without repetition. A few of these delicacies include:

Dals Dalcha Khana is mutton and channa dal based, special to the Indian sub-continent. The list of ingredients is a long one and the correct proportions are the key to its success. It is usually had with bread or Naan, and Indian flatbread cooked on open fire.

Kichada is special to the area as well. It is the most sought after dish prepared from grinding 8 types of pulses and wheat soaked over night in water and grinded to form thick paste with spicy garam masala(a mixture of Indian spices gound to a fine poweder and garnished with mint leaves, fried onions and lemon juice. This usually had plain without bread or rice.

Tawa Items A tawa is the Indian word for pan. Tawa ghosht is coarsely minced mutton roasted on a pan with spices and served with naan. The mutton in mutton rolls also made on the tawa but cut into bite sized pieces. Thin type breads are dipped into bread, stuffed with the mutton filling and then fried again on the tawa with ghee (purified butter).

Fried Items All types of cutlets, beef, chicken, mutton and fish are available. Derived from the French word côtelette meaning piece of meat, a cutlet is a versatile part of Indian cuisine. The meat is cooked with spices – onion, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, coriander (cilantro), green chillies, lemon and salt. Many times it is sandwiched between boiled potato that is mashed and mixed with finely cut green chillies, coriander and salt. This is then dipped in an egg mix and then in breadcrumbs, and fried in oil or ghee. The mutton and chicken cutlets are rolled in semolina giving a crunchy textured coating. The meat cutlets during Iftar are filling and easy take away food.

Biriyani Mogul biriyani is a specialty of the Muslims and always served for any special occasion. The meat mixture, beef, mutton or chicken is cooked separately with 2 different types of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, ginger, garlic, red and green chilles, mint leaves, coriander among other spices. Superior quality basmati rice is half cooked. The meat and the rice are layered; the pan is sealed with a layer of dough made with flour and water so that no juices or air escape and the dish is cooked to perfection.

Tandoor Kebabs, kebabs and more kebabs, it is one of the favorite foods with kids. Easy to eat and full of meat and flavor. Kebabs are boneless pieces of meat put on a stick and cooked over an open fire known as a tandoor. Tandoori cooking is done in an outdoor cooking pit heated with coals, close to the equivalent of barbequing.

Curries Korma is a meat dish, usually mutton or chicken, in thick gravy cooked with many Indian spices and masalas. It is usually eaten with rice, bread or naan.

Desserts The meal must end with some sweetness on the tongue. The choices are many…Phirni is a cracked rice pudding made in clay pots with thick milk. Malpua is a sweetened flour mixture deep fried in ghee, Indian bread pudding and halwa, a dessert made from various kinds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts added to ghee, sugar and thick milk.

Many men stop here to take food home for their families, giving ladies of the home a break from cooking. For many working women the market is a welcome change to having to go home and cook after a long day of working and fasting.

The hustle and bustle of the market is a sight to see. People of all faiths come and relish the food and families and friends celebrate together. The last day of Ramzan ends with the special holiday of Id-ul-fitr, a warm closing to the Holy month.

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