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Dates, black chickpeas cooked in onion and ginger, onion fritters, eggplant fritters, puffed rice, apples, oranges, grapes, cucumber, bananas, haleem, fried chicken, boiled eggs, thick and thin jelabis, biryani, tehari, burgers, everything.
Insane crowd, jostling for shopping space, hawkers taking up every inch of footpath, bumper to bumper traffic, people crossing roads mindlessly, trains and buses overflowing with passengers, people planning vacation a month in advance.
If all this reads like scenes from Mad Max, then you have an idea of Ramadan in Dhaka.
Office hours get slashed so that people can reach home in time for iftaar. Most don’t as they get stuck in insane traffic.
Magically, the roads become empty at the stroke of iftaar and stays so for the next half hour or so. Then shopping frenzy begins.
Shopping not just for clothes but food as well.
Grocery shelves groan under the pressure of stocks.
One visit to any market and you will not believe this is a developing nation.
Apples and pears from New Zealand, plums and peaches from Australia, dates from Tunisia and Morocco, mangosteen and longon from Thailand, bell peppers of all colours from India, oranges from Europe.
Rooh Afza bottles are everywhere.
Iftaar has gone beyond a family tradition and has become a PR point. Every company throws an iftaar party. Every agency treats their clients to iftaar.
Actually, move over iftaar. Sehri parties are here. Eating a meal before sunrise to sustain you through the day is the latest in thing. Restaurants are keeping open from iftaar to sehri. Convention centers are being booked for sehri food festivals.
This piece does not really do justice as I have not been able to cover Old Dhaka.
That is a totally different ball game. Narrow lanes lined with food stalls. Biryani and tehri by the cauldron. Kababs and something called “Borolok Baaper Pola/Boro Baaper Pola.” Literally translated to son of a rich man. It is puffed rice mixed with all kinds of fritters, cooked chickpeas, cucumber, onion, green chili and, wait for it, jelabis. Yes, a strange concoction and the old towners seem to love it.
I do not know how that name came about. I can only guess that a rich man’s son wanted everything in a shop to be his iftaar and presto, you have that. The most famous place to have this is Chowk Bazaar in Old Dhaka.
I have not done too many sehris as I am not an early morning person. But I do plan to do one with my colleagues in one of the sehri food festivals.
Iftaars are more usual for me, though I do not fast.
Iftaar, once you sit down, is a very spiritual experience. People wait patiently and silently for the evening call of prayer. Then, deferentially, the date is eaten, harking back to the days of Prophet Mohammed and his custom of breaking fast. For such a loud bunch, iftaar is an unusually quite affair. People of all ilk sit down together and either have their own plate of eat from a common plate.
After all, the true spirit of Ramadan is one of peace and tolerance.
Here are three diverse Iftar feast options in Dhaka outside of its street food haunts:
One popular place to eat Iftaar in Dhaka is Nando’s, the South-African chain. While they do an iftaar platter, it is advisable to go a little early and order À la carte. Lot less wastage that way.
Possibly the most popular place for iftaar or sehri would be Star Kabab at all their outlets. People need to go really early and order as they tend to run out of their best selling items fast. Plain paratha with mutton leg roast hits the spot like nothing else.
Surprisingly, the pricey Izumi, a fusion Japanese restaurant does a pretty good bento box for Iftaar. It is quite a novel experience to have sushi rolls and teriyaki chicken for Iftaar.
Photo credit: Kaniska Chakraborty
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