It’s funny how certain events mean completely different things for different people. Take, for instance, the month of Ramzan. For Muslims it’s 30 days of sombre remembrance and spiritual reverence. They fast all through the day, and eat only after sundown and after doing their namaz/maghrib prayer. For me, and there is absolutely no disrespect meant, it’s about “iftaar” — the first meal of the day. This is ironic because it’s never the first meal of the day for me, but then who bothers with technicalities.
But then, given the fancy iftaar parties that grace the numerous Page Threes and Fours and Fives, at least I’m not the only one with the following ‘chemical’ equation:
Ramazan = AWESOME FOOD!
Traditionally, the fast is broken by consuming dates (because Prophet Mohammad was supposed to have broken his fast with three dates), following which there is a feast of the most delectable kinds of foods, had together in a social gathering of sorts. So, in a way, it’s actually 30 fancy dinner parties in a row!
This makes it all the more imperative for a true foodie to visit the brightly lit gully of Matia Mahal, in front of Delhi’s imposing Jama Masjid as the angled rays of the sun give way to the blue hour. The evening azaan pierces through the air, calling out to devotees who scramble across the vast courtyard of the 357-year-old mosque offering their prayers. Within minutes, though, the same courtyard is filled with numerous picnic spreads.
Step out, and the entrance of the famous Matia Mahal (of Karim fame, among other things) is brightly lit up to rival Diwali, as people call out to each other — wishing them, hugging them, crowds gathering around the various hotels shouting out their orders, the air full of the delicious smells of chicken fry and mutton qorma (that is also SO characteristically Old Delhi), towers of soft and fluffy tandoori rotis grace the countertops, the sizzle of marinated meats being tossed into massive woks of bubbling hot oil, mounds of freshly fried, golden brown, succulent chicken wings glisten in the festive lights — beckoning, making your mouth salivate.
As you cut through the stream of bodies, adopt the robot pose (both arms on the side with the fore-arm jutting out like an L), keep a lookout for anything and everything that strikes our eye, and triggers the palate in anticipation.
Ideally I would recommend the vegetarians to stay away from this part of town, especially during Ramazan because, let’s face it, there isn’t much to have. Except for the absolutely brilliant Shahi Tukda. If Marie Antoinette had savoured this delicacy, let’s just say, history would have been a tad bit different. Made from the rather proletarian bread, bumped up the tasting order with a generous dosage of ghee and malai and all things nice, these bites of heaven simply melt in your mouth (while the calories head straight down south!). There are, of course, quite a selection of dry fruits, a fusion version of the roti with coconut filling and fresh hot pakoras to choose from as well. Although, be warned that the latter just about lasts 20 minutes after the evening maghrib prayer. So you’ll have to stand ready to jump at them the minute they’re up for sale.
During this month, Matia Mahal is open till the wee hours of the morning as the smells of haleem waft through the air — the traditional “suhoor” fare, which is had just before dawn. Of course, the festivities keep ascending in lights, choices and decibel levels closer to Eid, but that just means you can pace yourself and your stomach out over an entire month.
So, as-salamu aleikum and bon apetit!