Ramadan is on full swing. I can see it on the henna-decorated hands and feet of the women; at work, on roads, in neighborhoods, fashionable skulls caps, wholesale markets in Chickpet crowding up with men extensive purchasing fabrics for their entire family. Moreover, my loyal tailor has started laboring day and night, desperately trying to finish everyone’s new outfits before the festivities.
Resulting, much to my dissatisfaction, being in queue to get my garments delivered! Depending on when the first sighting of the crescent moon occurs, the big celebration that will conclude Ramadan would be either Friday or Saturday. It amazes me how it always seems to be a spirit of festivity, considering each day of the month includes a day-long fast! And in other cities like Delhi, a fast, in the sweltering heat of summer! But the end of each day has a feast to lure. Almost like light at the end of a tunnel- and a delightful light at the end of a food-addict’s tunnel!
Bangalore boasts of pretty summer showers. When summer showers no longer hinders two friends to get together and explore a food-laced walk, you can be assured that they consider food spiritual. My meat-ing with Partha was exactly on these premises. I will be brutally honest here: most aftermaths of a social media acquaintances (from my end at least) do not generally end up in personal interactions.
But I was almost convinced that this one required a logical next step. So we decided to meet. One rainy evening, last week for an Iftar walk. It would have been quite difficult to spot the Albert Bakery, had I come alone. This elusive centurion bakery, dated way back from 1902 has all the reasons to be the first of a food-pilgrim. It opens at 3.30 p.m. and is legendary for its chicken and mutton keema samosas.
Notorious for causing traffic bottlenecks, by the huge crowds that cause much chaos to gormandize its much-loved keema naan, khova muffins and bheja (goat-brain)puffs, this 111 year old bakery is run by a Muslim family and was apparently named Albert simply to make it easier to serve the British Empire’s aristocrats. In reality, it is actually quite a nondescript hole in the wall kind of a place, tucked in a cozy nook, away from a logical straight line on the road. I was taken there to taste the ‘world famous’ bheja puff and the khova naan, made especially for the festival.
At the strike of a hunger pang anything can taste good! So, honestly, since the first seven bites (comprising of 2 brain puffs), were made with a responsibility of filling my pang, the taste of the puffs did not quite register properly.
It was rather good, I am guessing. But what melted in my mouth and melted my heart alike were the triangular shapes of sinfully slow cooked khova(a mixture of sweet condensed milk and semolina), packed irresistibly within flaky slides of naan- the khova naan! As if almost on purpose, the satin khova glided carelessly on my fingers, tempting me to lick them clean even after the actual piece was devoured.
A tiny walk away, Mosque Road looked like a bride on the way to her Nikaah. Resplendent! The Iftar stalls were hosted in rain proof shamiyanas. Stalls selling khajoor, enticing people with fish and crabs, stalls that sold Teetar (Quails) and even Camel meat! And then stalls that specialized and sold only Haleem (the one single thing that defines Ramzan for the food-worshipers)
In terms of promotion, the one item which was clearly the man of the match, had to be the Patthar ke Gosht (Stoned Mutton, if you translate it literally!)- and, literally there was one, every stone’s throw away! A big block of granite hissed and sizzled , while spiced up marinated meat kept piling up one after the other, every time with a louder crackle and sputter, sending into the air wires of electric red threads and hazy aromatic smoke.
It also meant that the Patthar ka Gosht was getting ready for all the greedy bellies around. The meat can be chicken, goat or beef. So,if it is beef, or veal, the kabab gets a nick name.. the ‘Wheel’ Kebab’! The huge block of granite could easily take upto 5-6 hours to be heated, I am told. the meat is placed on these slabs and charred, seared to cook and render an earthy smoky flavour to it. Considering every kabab in the world can be placed on this slab and made into Patthar ke Gosht, I am not sure, which really is the authentic meat for this dish.But, it is definitely a very popular tag-line and a dish very well promoted!
For those who arent so much a meat glutton, there arent too many options. The area is infested with chops and chaps, rolls and bowls, cutlets and sherbets and jabelis, and rabdis. Various kababs, Afghani,Safed Mirch, Irani, MalaiTikka and Boti.
The Baida Roti is also a big draw at Ramzan and is essentially a big paratha stuffed with meat, folded over to form a nice square pie sautéed in oil again. It is then cut into little squares and served with a hot chutney for your eating pleasure. You can have your pick from beef, chicken, or mutton mince.
Till now, we had feasted on camel meat sheeks, quails, malai kababs and was looking for the last bit that would complete a Iftar food regime: The Haleem!
Haleem is a sublime dish used to break the fast, because at once it is both delicious and nutritious. The high calorie haleem is an ideal way to break the Ramzan fast. Haleem means patience, because it takes long hours to prepare (often a whole day) and served in the evenings. Traditionally an Arabic dish, it has been adapted and localized as part of Dakhni or Hyderabadi cuisine. The wheat is soaked overnight, then simmered in water along with meat and butter. Any remaining liquid is strained and the mixture is beaten and seasoned. It needs to be garnished with fried onions, ginger and coriander leave, and a dash of lemon to provide you with a taste, that is hard to forget! And, of course, the generous topping of spiced ghee, which brings the whole mixture to dizzying heights of awesomeness!
I agree, we ate less, but to me a foodie-walk need not necessarily end in consuming. It is a 360 degree sensation, I often consider spiritual in nature. I feel connected to the universe, and the feeling of contentment is like no other!
I might not be a big eater, but I worship the food gods! Partha said ‘I was a half-foodie’!
It was quite a sweet ending with a dunking cup of Suleimani tea. And while I maneuvered my home that rainy evening in an auto-rickshaw, I giggled thinking that a celebration of peace is in the form of chaos and quite a bit of pandemonium!
Partha was a great companion. We had a great adda, catching up on several things under the sun, along with food. Sensible, talkative, funny and spontaneous. I couldnt grasp much about him, but I could safely say, he is one of those, you would like to relax with on a Friday evening, having a 18-yr old Glen(Morangie!),talk about Dali, Shirshendu, Hitler,the Moorish influence on Andalacian food, maska paos and keema paos of Mumbai, the genius of Tagore, the haunting poetry of Rumi, Michelle Obama and Himesh Reshamia with equal panache!!