Iftar, An Introduction

So here we are in the holy month of Ramzan. While for Muslims, its a sacred period with a lot of piousness coming in and the day long fasting is decreed for them, the rest of the world is taken in by the amazing range of food that is there to be eaten.

For a very long time, in major parts of Tamil nadu, the fast breaker has always been the 'nombu kanji' with dates. The kanji is really a porridge with lentils, rice, meat in some households, garlic and tomato, give or take a few ingriedients depending on the flavors of the household. It is nutritious, is light on the stomach which kind of contracts due to the day long fasting and gives the energy rush that the body craves. Dates has been used as a tradition to add to the fast breakers which usually have a number of snacks to them.

At home, it has mostly been chicken cutlets, snack called 'pettis', which is like a samosa, but crescent in shape and has just potato pieces (not mashed) and minced meat inside. Depending on the mood of the day and how tired or active the head chef at home aka the mom is, you might get a few 'birds nest' which are a unique kind of dish, thus far unique to the 'Kadamba family' which is an extended family on its own. And sweet, yeah, how can any meal not have a sweet and iftar is no different, we used to get either a 'vattalappam' which is a vanilla jaggery nuts pudding or belos, which I have no way of describing or sometimes 'kolakattai in jaggery sauce' which is what you see in the photo below. Looks like jaggery was an all time favorite.

Today, while the scene at home is not very different from my grandmom times, the eating out scene is barely recognizable. Haleem, which is pretty much a Hyderabad influence has now become synonymous with Iftar in Chennai and is slowly replacing the nombu kanji in hotels. Haleem is almost like a thick nombu kanji, but the cooking process is slow (7-8 hours) and is high dense energy with flavors hitting you, what those flavors are depends on the area.

Haleem from Hyderabad is different and stronger in its spices (like most dishes from Andhra) and has carved a name for itself, whereas Haleem from others places is milder spiced. But the best of Haleems are it's consistency which can differentiate a good Haleem from a moderate one. There should be no bones or anything which is not minced, when you are eating something so soft and pasty, you do not expect to come across any cinnamon sticks or anything remotely solid. And another influence from the state above is the Khubani Ka meetha, which is an apricot based dessert, in a thick syrup laced with almonds or apricot kernels and topped off with some cream.

There are some places serving the old fashioned nombu kanji as part of the Iftar pack, like Hotel Blue Diamond, while lots of them have moved to the new age (new age in Chennai) Haleem. As I eat them during the month, I will share my experiences with you.

If you are fasting, may God give you the strength to fulfill your duty, if you are looking to make the most of the cuisine of Ramzan, I hope I can give you an insight over the next few posts. And sorry bout the photos, folks at home were not willing to wait for the dslr to click photos while they were starving, so had to make do with a phone.

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