On the most joyous of Muslim celebrations, the Eid table creaks with dishes that can feed an entire community. Each region and each community, however, has its own special traditions, and Rushda Rafeek writes about some of the most interesting ones from around the world.
On the eve of Ramzan, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid ul Fitr upon seeing the crescent moon. Not only does it mark the end of the holy month, but also a moment when families and friends come together for a delectable feast. Depending on where in the world you are, each table celebrates differently, with a spread that reflects its own regional cuisine.
Scherezade, an Afghani based out of Mumbai, describes a Pashto Eid favourite – the painda, often consumed in the Khyber Pass region connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tribal gravy dish, painda can be translated to ‘eating in gathering,’ which, as the name suggests, is cooked in large quantities to feed a crowd. It is believed that this legendary dish was once enjoyed by Prophet Mohammed himself. Thin pieces of flatbread are dipped into a broth of chicken and potato, flavoured with South Asian spices, a smattering of coriander leaves, fried onions, and lemon, served with yoghurt raita or salad, in a thal (silver platter). There is a saying that when gosh-e-fil preparations have begun, Eid is in the air. A doughnut visually representing the elephant’s ears (gosh) is deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar, pistachios and even rose petals.
After morning Eid prayers, Bangladeshi families prepare what is known as haleem, a special stew common in the subcontinent. An Arabic dish, this was first introduced by the Chaush community who sailed from Yemen to Hyderabad to serve in the military for the Nizam. The meal comprises of chunks of meat, lentils and pounded wheat, slow-cooked with aromatic spices. Another Eid tradition is the sweet pudding semai (sheer khorma), translated from Urdu or Farsi, to mean milk with dates. Sheer khorma was brought to India during the Mughal dynasty and has been enjoyed by Dhakni Muslims since. The consistency of the pudding is creamy and made with vermicelli, whole milk and sugar.
An array of kababs, including chapli kabab (a Pashtun-styled minced kebab, originally from Peshawar, Pakistan), are intrinsic to Eid celebrations. Fish dishes are also customary for the Bangladeshi table. However, depending on the season, this can vary, explains Sami, a Bangladeshi living in the US. This year’s Eid falls during the monsoon, which means the hilsa (fish) becomes a priority.
Nafisah, a Chinese-American currently residing in San Diego, explains the Eid traditions of the Muslims from Nanjing. Like their cousins who grew up in the Northwestern (NW) Chinese tradition, most local Muslims serve the oil-based 油香 You Xiang, meaning ‘oil fragrance’, reserved specially for guests who visit on the day of Eid (and is similar to the Native American Fry Bread in taste). The oil is expensive and rare, and most NW Muslim communities are largely impoverished, so deep-frying in this oil is reserved for special occasions. In Nanjing and most of the Eastern cities, the Cultural Revolution of the 60s caused a rift between generations that has led to a scarcity of Eid-specific recipes. That said, Nanjing is unique in that in the time of the Ming Dynasty, much of the army was composed of Muslim soldiers. When Nanjing was declared capital again, the Generals and their families were all relocated to the imperial city. Not only did this result in many NW Chinese Muslim families being able to contribute to the culinary history of Nanjing, but ended up creating their own strain of cuisine that plays a big role in the boom of the Halal food industry. Today, Nanjing's modern-day local specialties comprise vegetarian meals (marketed for Buddhist customers) and big salted and roast-duck specialties that pay homage to the long line of Muslim duck butchers and chefs. Current-day establishments, whether hole-in-the-wall shops or top-end fancy restaurants, all make claims to the 清真 cuisine, dating back over a hundred years.
The Muslims celebrating Eid in North India have been passed down traditional khansama recipes. One such is the shahi tukda, a bread pudding consumed after haleem biryani. The bread that goes in the pudding has been toasted or shallow fried, then led to a bath of hot condensed milk and grated paneer with spices, including saffron. Served warm or chilled, this favourite is present in every home during Eid, says Sabila from Delhi. Other festive specials include the kimami sewai made of vermicelli and dates, dahi vada, shirmal (flatbread) and sewaiyan kheer.
Markets grow infectious with the making of Shu’a in Oman. Intensely flavourful, this ancient delicacy is served with basmati rice, and the meat comes richly marinated in spices and roasted in a special oven. Individual portions come wrapped in palm fronds or banana leaves. Another Eid specialty, according to Qusay, an Omani currently studying in Sri Lanka, is mishkak, a skewer-grilled marinated BBQ meat. However, nothing is a more beloved tradition than the Omani halwa. Accompanied by Arabic coffee known as qahwa, it uses corn flour to form the base, with a crown of nuts and sesame seeds.
Hazro in Pakistan is a small Punjabi village located close to Islamabad. Here, the yakhni pulao is cooked to perfection with basmati rice and beef, held together by intense spices. This heavy dish is followed by the simple yet spectacular Zarda – a soggy, sweet rice dessert. Tradition includes sending food on the morning before or after Eid prayers to daughters of the house who have moved out, and the poor and needy in the neighbourhood. “It is ensured that food is sent to all before one settles down to eat,” says Adnan, a Pakistani living in the US.
“The mammoth makloubeh is the mainstay of all celebratory occasions,” says Mariam from Jerusalem. Makloubeh translated from Arabic means ‘upside down,’ referring to the dramatic flip before serving. Consisting of meat, rice, and fried vegetables, cooked in a pot, the layers in a well-executed flip are what mark a well-made dish.
The cheese-filled knafeh fills the streets of Palestine during Ramzan. This Levant specialty consists of pastry carefully spread on massive round trays greased with palm oil, or the traditional semneh (fermented butter), stuffed with soft white cheese saturated in rose-scented sugar syrup. While the knafeh kingdom falls under the city Nablus, and recipes vary according to region, good knafeh is marked by a gooey centre presented in thin layers of ochre pastry, topped with chopped pistachios for a lovely, vibrant finish.
Mahmoud who is originally from Gaza, now living in the US, explains that the traditions of Palestine aren’t the same everywhere. In Gaza City, a native Eid dish is the sumaqiya. This rich stew includes lamb with sumac and chickpea, typically eaten at breakfast on the morning of Eid. Gazan Knafeh, unlike the ones made elsewhere, differs in look, feel and texture, and is best enjoyed with a side of strong Turkish coffee.
Ahmet, with roots in Antakya, says a common gesture of hospitality in Turkish homes is the kömbe cookie, which is also popular in Azerbaijan. A culinary remnant of the Ottoman empire, this cookie is made using the old-fashioned kombe or wooden moulds. The crunchy outer layer is decorated with intricate detailing from the moulds, and crumbles to give way to a gooey interior.
Besra, a Turkish woman living in the UK, remembers dishes from other parts of Turkey. “Using trimmed chard leaves, a dolma is stuffed until it reaches the thickness of a Che Guevara cigar. Except that one can’t smoke it,” she laughs. The roll is made of zucchini, eggplant, and onion. Kadayif squares are added to the table for something bewitchingly sweet. This shredded fillo (phyllo) dough is a relative of the superstar Baklava, made with walnuts, pistachio and syrup.
An Emirati kitchen brims with the scent of harees, considered an integral part of their culture. Derived from the Arabic word ‘harasa’ meaning to mash or crush, harees contains wheat soaked overnight with meat, either lamb or chicken. The dish is slow cooked with butter, sugar and cinnamon, pepper and salt, to arrive at a porridge-like consistency. Expect the unexpected stuffed camel at an affluent Emirati Eid table. Having made it to the Guinness Book of World Records, the dish is often present at elaborate wedding functions. The broiled camel is stuffed with a lamb, two (or twenty) chickens, rice and eggs, and even fish. It is such an extravagant dish that many believe is more myth than truth.
"The luqaimat is a sensational favourite among the locals and children," says Salha, having spent most of her life in Dubai. Cloyingly sweet, the dumplings are golden brown, drowning in a bed of date syrup or honey, and has delicious, slight crunch. Perfect for sharing with friends and family on a joyous occasion.
Rushda Rafeek is a writer currently based in Sri Lanka. Her works have appeared in numerous publications both print and online.
Illustration by Yasra Khoker of Doodlenomics.
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