Pasta, sushi and even a fruit trifle might be becoming part of the Eid spread today, but traditional dishes like sheer khurma and kachri qeema with kachori still hold their own
By Vaishali Dar
There’s still an hour to go to break the day-long fast. Nikhat Parveen, a homemaker residing in Islam Ganj, a nondescript locality near Sadar Bazaar, steps out of the kitchen and makes a frantic call to her younger sister, Asma Sajid, who lives just a few blocks away. “It is ready, reach as soon as you can,” she hangs up in haste, wiping sweat from her forehead.
All the flutter is for an ‘absolutely delicious recipe’ of fruit trifle, which is not so traditional, but fast becoming a rage in purani Dilli. Parveen perfected this dish after spending endless hours on the internet to get the best possible recipes for the trifle, which, she believes to have finally mastered.
“Fruit trifle, which is basically a fusion of custard, fruits, bread, dry-fruits and sevayein (sheer khurma), is going to be the showstopper dish for my Eid spread,” she smiles. “I bought cookbooks, surfed the internet and even spoke to my friends in an attempt to hone my recipe for this special dish,” she explains as she garnishes the trifle with dry-fruits and dates.
Sajid is the in-house taster for all her experiments with food. “I am pretty sure this is going to rattle my cousins and aunts whom I have invited for Eid lunch. Every year, I spring a special surprise with my culinary expertise,” says the visibly excited homemaker.
Sajid is here, and ‘fruit trifle’, which is served cold, is ready for tasting. Since the traditional sevayein is the most important dish of the day, fruit trifle has made way for innovative variations in sevayein — a blend of fruit, dry-fruits, khoya (condensed milk), chhuarey (dried dates), cheronji, kishmish (raisins).
Every bite of this scrumptious dessert bursts with sweet and tangy flavours, assimilated in layers of ingredients. “The recipe is, of course, a secret. One has to taste it to relish it,” says Nikhat.
“As Eid-ul-Fitr is the festival of ending month-long fasting, the day marks a celebration of sorts in many ways. One looks the best, decorates the house and eats well. It’s a feast after fasting. A widespread tradition to buy new clothes for the family, especially during the ‘chaand raat’, a night before the Eid, is a must. Being a homemaker, Nikhat ‘appi’ loves to prepare her favourite dishes, something new on the menu, every year,” explains Sajid.
While the festivities last for three days, with a table-full of dishes — sheer khurma (sevayein made in milk), biryani, korma, shami kebab, aloo sabzi, kofta, chholey, kheer, sheer maal, dahi badey, to mention a few — there has been a religious sync of dishes from the old and the new era. Kachri qeema is another savoury and very Eid-specific dish; it is to be consumed with kachori especially prepared for the occasion and is sourced from old shops in Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and Sadar Bazaar. The spices used in seekh kebabs are used for the preparation of kachri qeema and instead of grilling like kebabs, the qeema mix is fried in a pan or deep fried in ghee or oil.
Though the dastarkhwan is a beautifully laid out table for non-vegetarian lovers, the vegetarians can’t be ignored. Paneer sabzi, chholey, kachori, aloo ki katli (sliced potatoes with gravy) are a big hit among them.
One of the most popular Eid dishes and easy to make is the classic biryani. Meat, rice and spices all come together harmoniously in one satisfying dish. While chicken korma is typical, it’s common to find a range of meats featured with flavourful spices of cinnamon, clove, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, bay leaf, javitri and jaiphal (mace and nutmeg).
The author of Jasmine & Jinns:Memories and Recipes of My Delhi, Sadia Dehlvi, who has written vividly on the traditional cuisines of the walled city, fondly remembers her childhood memories of Eid festivities and those open-house sessions of feasting with friends and family. “This day is all about fun and food, a special Eid hug on the day to greet one another with elaborate Eid lunches that turn into dinners. I recall how my relatives, friends and family kept pouring in and we visited our close family members to exchange greetings and relish scrumptious meals together on the dastarkhwan,” she says. The Dehlvis (who belong to Delhi) are one of the respected families in the city who made Delhi their home several hundred years ago. Their ancestors had come from Bhera in undivided Punjab, now in Pakistan. They were into the publishing business —Shama (Urdu literature) and Sushma (Hindi films) were widely-read magazines till the 1990s.
“As a child I have cherished my stay at Shama Kothi on chaand raat. At sunset we rushed to the terrace to sight the moon and on sighting we greeted ‘Chaand Mubarak’ and folded our hands in prayer,” remembers Dehlvi.
Shama Kothi was the Dehlvis’ abode on Sardar Patel Marg in Delhi and has hosted an array of yesteryear’s film stars such as Saira Banu, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Rajendra Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Kamal Amrohi, Mehboob Khan, K Asif, Gulzar, Rakhee, Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, among several others.
However, the day of celebration is not as easy as it sounds. The night of preparation is vibrant, auspicious and even strenuous. A day before Eid, the male family members go out to purchase raw meat, vegetables and other essential ingredients. The women turn their focus to last-minute shopping, visit the night bazaar to buy colourful bangles, apply mehndi and decorate their houses. Most wind up the daily chores a night before which include dusting and cleaning the houses and even pre-cooking some meals. It is customary for men to have dates, especially before proceeding to the Eidgah for the annual morning prayer on the festival. According to a religious belief, Prophet Muhammad would not leave for the morning prayer on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr till he had eaten some dates. To eat a sweet before leaving home means that it is forbidden to fast on the day of
Eid and also that the fasting month has concluded.
“On the eve of the last day of Ramzan, the dining table is replaced with a dari chandni- a cotton underlay with a thick sheet covering,” says Dehlvi, adding, “As a child I remember we used to stay wide awake the whole night and my uncles went for namaaz first thing in the morning and post that they made a detour to pick up vegetarian goodies for children like halwa puri, mithai and kachori from either Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners or Shireen Bhawan. Though a lot of the dishes are prepared a day in advance, I used to pre-cook the yakhni and add rice in the morning since this preparation takes a lot of time and is cooked for a good number of family members.” There’s no doubt that the festival is all about mithai and non-vegetarian, but vegetarians can’t be ignored. “Dahi badey and khili maash ki daal (urad daal) or shahi paneer, matar pulao are a few popular vegetarian items prepared for the day,” adds Dehlvi, who feels one of the deciding factors in preparing such delicacies depends on the season. “When Eid falls in winter months, it offers a good spread of seasonal greens like carrots and spinach along with fresh salads,” she says.
Amna Mirza, a resident of Defence Colony in south Delhi, feels, “Today’s youth like to strike a balance between the traditional and the modern. With the
availability of a variety of cuisines to binge on, like pasta and sushi, which are gaining popularity among youngsters, sevayein still is an all-time favourite.” Mirza, who has roots in the walled city, is a political science teacher in Shyama Prasad Mukherji College in Delhi University.
Everybody is important and participates in the preparations for the day. It is a community celebration which assumes significance at a time of nuclear families. Eidi is the most important aspect of the day and children are gifted money from the elders. “Suddenly the children of the house would become rich and buy toys and souvenirs. They would rent a bicycle,” Dehlvi recalls. Old timers say that they organised group tours, picnics, visited historical places, the zoo, Appu Ghar, watched movies or bought chocolates… childhood Eid was a lot of fun.
With the changing trends, the city culture is on the rise. Now children go out for burger or pizza treats, watch movies and present utility items as gifts. “We all love mithai but sweets are not meant for all age groups. I have bought crockery and home utility items for my relatives as everyone in my family is health conscious and such utility items are timeless,” adds Parveen. Get-togethers and bonding over food is a hallmark of any Eid celebration. “There have been notable changes in fashion styles, blending both affordability and comfort, along with traditional heavy attires. And with the rise of social media, a common trend of clicking pictures with friends after prayers or selfies with groups is popular. Online shopping is big for youngsters and even elders. But patience and modesty are the real messages of Ramzan,” says Mirza.
Nevertheless, Dehlvi feels sad about the changing times and that with the evolution of technology there’s a huge gap in people-to-people interaction. “I have lived in a wonderful era and feel sad that this young generation will not know how we used to enjoy Eid. The personal touch of getting together and having a no-phone celebration and to be able to spend time with a spirit of bonhomie uniting the family on one day is lost. Eid is no longer the same,” rues Dehlvi.