Breaking the Fast for Ramzan

It is Ramzan (as Ramadan is called around here) and our Muslim friends & co-workers are fasting until sun down. But at around 6:40pm, the party starts! At the aptly named “Mosque Road” in the Frazer Town neighbourhood of Bangalore food stalls pop up for the month and its a whole scene — for hungry Muslims and foodies of all religions.

Vendors cook all day (most of whom are fasting themselves whilst they are preparing the food). Then, at sundown, the street becomes a strolling Thanksgiving-like feast of people gorging on food. Although this is one place & time in India that is truly not veg-friendly. The Muslims eat meat — and apparently lots of it! And some of it pretty unique… in a Anthony Bourdain reality food show sort of way.

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Here are some of the things people in my party sampled (but the people requested that I hide their identities, to shield them from teasing):

• We started at the “famous” Albert Bakery, on the way to Mosque Road. This bakery does more than just cakes & pastry. Albert is famous for 2 things: (1) killer mini samosas (filled with meat or veg) and (2) “bheja” or goat brain puffs. Yep. You read that correctly. {I guess my friends were right about the teasing: the brain eater – I mean bheja taster! — was immediately subjected to zombie quips.} The Zombie reported that the brian puff was over-rated; s/he prefers the traditional mutton or chicken puffs. (“Puff” is puff pastry with savoury filling.) I can confirm that the veg mini-samosa lived up to the hype. (Samosa is a triangular fried pastry pocket with meat or veg filling.)

•On to our first food stall: grilled fish marinated in spices. It was red in color, like tandoori cooking, but cooked — like almost everything in the stalls that wasn’t fried– on a metal grate over charcoal. Tasty! No bones. I enjoyed it.

•Kheema Paratha: Paratha (tasty fried bread) stuffed with cooked mutton and fried again. It appear to be folded like a big envelope, but the vendors cut it up like a tray of brownies to eat by hand. A big Ramadan hit. Everyone in our party who tried it gave it a thumbs up.

• Haleem, a Ramzan delicacy. This is a creamy meat dish served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon. It is slow cooked mutton with herbs and wheat — cooked for 8 hours or so. It is a real labour of love, which explains why people only make it for Ramzan. Again, everyone in our party who tried it enjoyed it, although a few commented that it was a very heavy, filling dish. The version made with spices from Hyderabad is widely considered to be the best.

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•Grilled “sea” fish and onion samosa. Variations of the previous dishes and also yummy. We’ll never know what type of fish it was, but it had long thick bones.

• DRUM ROLL PLEASE….. Camel. Yep. And you thought we were not going to top goat brains, right! This seemed to be a novelty even among Indians. There appeared to be only one camel meat vendor, and he had quite a crowd. Locals were breaking out their cell phones to take photos. Our group critiqued the camel along side another group of camel tasters. The general consensus was: heavily spiced to the point you couldn’t really taste the camel (although everyone conceded that may be the point!), slightly chewy but surprisingly not as tough as everyone anticipated.

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I used the “I’m a vegetarian” (ok, pescetarian) defence to get out of tasting the camel. However, I was holding the bowl of haleem which caused some confusion with our camel sampling peers. Once I explained that I was merely holding the haleem so that my omnivore friends could use their hands to eat the camel, the camel tasters were cool with me. I was deemed a much more fun veg than their token veg friend, who they left standing outside beyond the stalls of grilling meat. OMG, that poor veg person. This is really not the place for a strict veg…

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• Kulfi — a denser than ice cream like diary dessert. At the shop we got our kulfi, it is stored in flat patties and cut up into bite size chunks just before serving. Our party shared 3 flavours: fig, pistachio & dried fruit. Fig was my fave.

• Dates. There was a shop on the corner by the mosque that sold nothing but dates from all around the world. I bought Tunisian & Irani dates, and sampled a Jordanian date. Yum! Great take away to end the evening.

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*I elected to overlook the fact that the guy who squeezed lemon over the fish and added some raw onion garnish with his bare hands was also the guy collecting payment and had a stack of bills in his other hand. I mean, that happens at fairs and farmers markets in the US, too, right? In any event, I ate a whole dinner from various food stalls and am no worse for it. Touch wood!

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