At the signal to end the fast, marking sundown, a quiver goes through the sea of people assembled in the main courtyard of the Jama Masjid. Two cracker shots heralds a night of feasting after a tough day-long abstinence from food and water.
Groups of families gather around a spread of food, fruits and juices, waiting patiently for the crackers to go off. Children playfully run around as their parents keep a watchful eye on them. With an air of festivity all around, the Jama Masjid courtyard offers a panoramic view of what appears to be a sea of picnickers.
At the signal, as the Maulvi intones a prayer, the faithful break the fast with dates and then water. They partake of a little food before the call for prayers. After the prayers, in which men gather in the inner courtyard, the families sit down to a hearty feast.
“Most people break the fast with a date because it is believed that is how the Prophet broke his fast,” informed well-known historian Sohail Hashmi, who conducted a Ramzan walk for a group of women journalists from the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC). “But the Shias, a sect of Muslims, break it with salt, because they believe that Ali, the fourth Khalifa, who they follow, broke his fast with salt.”
Narrating the significance of the month of Ramzan, a period of prayers, Hashmi said it is believed that the holy Quran was revealed in this month to Prophet Mohammad, one chapter per day. Before the Quran was written years later, it was transferred from one generation to another. Once it was penned down, the holy book was reorganised. “So now the 30th chapter is believed to be the first one to be revealed,” Hashmi added.
There is another story, perhaps pre-Mohammad and pre-Qurannic, most likely of Judaic tradition. When Adam and Eve broke the first prohibition and ate the forbidden fruit, they were expelled from heaven and fell at two different places ~ Eve in what is now Sri Lanka and Adam in Aden, Arabia. It took Adam a month to search out Eve, during which time he did not eat anything. The coral reefs that connect the Indian peninsula to Sri Lanka, now called Ram Sethu, is also known as Adam’s Bridge. Where he set foot in Sri Lanka, there is a huge footprint, which is locally worshipped as Buddha’s footprint. Id is the celebration of their meeting. It is also known as the “Sewaian Id” or “Meethi Id”.
As the group of scribes stood around the Jama Masjid courtyard, mesmerised by the sights and sounds, at least two families invited us to share their food. One family then placed a bowl of Aloo pakoras in the hands of the group, exhorting us to eat. And yes, the pakoras were simply delicious. Little did one realize that this was the spirit of sharing. It is a tradition to give to the underprivileged. Many people were seen distributing food and juices at the Jama Masjid too. Some make donations at restaurants, which give out plates of food to the poor.
After the wonderful start to our food trail, we stepped out of the Jama Masjid into the crowded Matia Mahal road. Teeming with people, festooned with tinsel strings and lights, it was indeed a sight to behold. And then the smell of food assailed our nostrils, setting our mouths to water.
There are several food trails organised by a number of people. It’s easy to track them down on the Net and join a group. Otherwise, if more adventurous, one can individually wander around, stopping where one’s fancy is caught ~ by the inviting sight of food or the aroma that is let out.
Our first halt was the Quereshi Kabab shop, where we had a fill of delicious seekh kababs, accompanied by plates of salad. Steeped in a variety of chutneys and a generous dash of butter, it hardly took any time for the plates to be licked clean!
We then set off, sniffing the air and eyeing the mounds of meat, fruits and sewaian. Our next halt was at a shammi kebab corner. The melt-in-the-mouth kababs and chicken tikka left one craving for more. The vegetarians too were delighted with the spicy paneer tikka. All this was served with an assortment of rotis, which we, however, refused. There was plain naan, keema naan and roomali roti.
We then made our way to a fish kebab stall, where we gorged on fish shammi kababs. There was also fried fish and fish pakoras on offer. But so satiated were we with the shammis that we decided to move on.
Then it was time for those with a sweet-tooth. We first visited Kallan sweets shop, where we had its famous Paneer jalebi and Khoya samosa. We then trailed down the road to an ice-cream point, where we had our hearts-fill of fruit ice-creams.
We ended up at the famous Karim’s restaurant, to be baffled by a choice of food. As we ordered, changing our minds a couple of times, we recalled the history of the place. It began in 1913, recounted Sohail Hashmi, as a small outlet to feed the labourers working on the New Delhi that was being built by the British rulers. The place was famous for Aloo-ghosht (Potato-meat stew). As the eatery established itself, it expanded. Today, a few generations down the line, it comprises a group of restaurants, each laying claim to be the original one.
As we packed up enough food to last a few days and left the vibrant lanes, one kept promising to return and feast some more!