Bombay has been incredibly merry for the past several weeks because of Ramzan (aka, Ramadan) and the run-up to Diwali. In fact, Bombay has sort-of lived up to its name: BOMB-Bay. Neighborhood kids are setting off massively loud fireworks at all hours of the day, and the boom can be quite disconcerting to the uninitiated. These aren’t your average Roman candles.
Most of the festivities in my neighborhood relate to the Hindu holiday, and it seems that every other house is done up in lights and candles, a la Christmas. Diwali is kind of like New Year’s and Christmas all in one, so I’ve been told.
And, who knew Ramadan could be so festive? Having not come from a predominantly Muslim area myself, I’ve always thought of Ramadan as a very solemn holiday, focused on fasting and piety. But I’ve since learned that Ramadan is as much about eating as it is not. Many companies and organizations have been sponsoring Iftaar dinners (after-dusk, fast-breaking dinners) for Muslim communities and constituents. Meanwhile, the Muslim neighborhoods, such as Mahim (between South Mumbai and Bandra) have been a flurry of activity. One really moving experience happened as we were driving toward Bandra the other night around 8pm and were able to hear the sounds of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. It was eerily beautiful.
Another hotbed of activity has been on Mohammed Ali Road, which is just past the red light district. (I overheard someone saying that business will pick up in the district once the religious holidays (Hindu and Muslim) are over.) We were invited to go down to M.A. Road for some street food, an offer that was both appealing and a bit scary.
We managed to get to the extremely crowded area at around 11:30 last night (“Go no earlier than 10 p.m.,” they said). We were to sample some of the traditional Muslim foods, which included, to my chagrin, lots and lots of non-veg items. There were chickens (or maybe quails?) inside their cages right next to the grill and all manner of goat and cow had been sacrificed in the name of breaking the fast. I half-expected to see out of the corner of my eye a goat get its throat slit, but thankfully that didn’t happen. It was way too crowded for any kind of butchering.
I had a little bit of goat/lamb and chicken, but kept things nice and neat. For instance, the fresh grilled bread was delicious! Anthony, on the other hand, ate a little bit of everything that was put in front of him. That included brains, kidneys, udders, and liver. Or maybe the last two were one in the same dish? I’m not sure. I don’t think I have to be that culinarily adventurous to have an authentic experience.
After the non-veg extravaganza, we moved on to dessert – something I was much more prepared to handle. We had firni (sp?), a sort of cardamom-fused tapioca pudding, an assortment of sweets made from black currants, figs, cashews, and cardamom (it’s in everything) and a sort of eggy pancake that was cooked on a griddle. We were to top the pancake with some fresh cream, but the cream didn’t really add much to it, flavor-wise. In fact, it was sort of greasy and heavy, especially after having had so much food for starters. Nevertheless, the whole night was pretty ambitious considering we didn’t even start eating until after midnight.
In case you’re wondering, we’re feeling fine today. That’s a good thing, because our 5-day weekend has begun! You’ve gotta love it when an American holiday, a Hindu holiday, and a Muslim holiday (Eid, the end of Ramadan) coincide to create a weekend that’s longer than your work week.
So, we’re off to Kerala…I’ll definitely tell you more about it when we return.