Finding Flavours & Relationships, In Iftaar Spreads
Image Credit: The elements of an iftaar spread have changed over time, but the intent and essence remain unadulterated. Photo courtesy: Shaheen Pacha

FOOD is known to us as one of the prime prerequisites for our survival -- it nourishes us, protects us and completes us. This nourishment is not just for the physical body, but also for the spiritual soul. We often overlook how food plays an essential role in building a community, a society. It connects people, fosters new friendships and forges bonds that last many lifetimes. It is more evident in a country like India where food and festivities go hand in hand. With its diverse flavour profiles, Indian festival cuisine is also a testimony to India's diverse culture and traditions. 

For Muslims in India, the month of Ramzan is marked by a period of intense fasting interspersed with moments of gastronomical pleasure. Following the maghrib namaz, Muslims observe iftaar - the act of community fast-breaking. People sit together in groups, either at home or outside, and eat from one plate. This act of eating together and sharing food is known to bring spiritual rewards or 'sawab'. While traditionally, the components of an iftar platter are rather very basic and include fruits or some sweets (or sometimes just salt or water), today these community eating experience has gone to a different level. There are lavish get-togethers, parties and dinners offering food from not just different corners of India but even around the globe. 

Slurrp tried to gather some glimpses of these various kinds of iftaar spreads from Mumbai and Delhi, and at the same time provide some insights into the journey of this tradition through the voices of people who are associated with it in some capacity. 



'Opportunity to connect the world to India' 

With Eid just around the corner, many Muslims around the world are looking forward to a celebratory and joyous time of togetherness. Iftaar spreads and bashes are a great way to commemorate the festival and enjoy some wonderful delicacies. As a cultural revivalist, I attended many such iftar parties in Delhi this year, including those organised by the British embassy, the French embassy, and locals at Jama Masjid who host Iftars for mass gatherings. I was fascinated by the diversity of people attending these events, their generosity and welcoming attitude, and how well they enjoyed the food and celebrations. 

France's embassy in India organised an interesting event as part of its cultural service to foster cultural exchange between France and India. Rana Safvi moderated the discussion on Sufi cultures in France and India, and the Qawwals of Nizamuddin Dargah, along with Alexandre Papas and Dhruv Sangari shared their insights on this topic. 

Following a day-long fast, the embassy provided a lavish iftar and dinner that satiated everyone's taste buds. The menu comprised an assortment of fresh fruits, sandwiches and an authentic Mughlai spread including biriyanis, qormas and kebabs. The event was successful and enriching for all those who attended. It was a celebration of diverse cultures, offering an opportunity to connect with one another, that left a lasting impact on all who were present. 

On the other hand, the iftar organized by the British embassy was themed on Muslim women change makers, thus celebrating trailblazing women and their impact on society. During the iftar event, the British High Commissioner made iftar and dinner arrangements based on his love for Indian food, culture and movies. The dinner spread included chicken burra, dal makhni, dum aloo, nihari, Hyrderbadi mirch ka salan, rumali roti, naan, along with rose phirni and shahi tukda for desserts. 

- ABU SUFIYAN (Culture revivalist, Founder of Purani Dilli Walo Ki Baatein)


ASIF KHAN DEHLVI | Storyteller, heritage enthusiast 

I grew up in Delhi in a neighbourhood where my family was the only Muslim family. I had a fulfilling childhood where there was genuine love and bonhomie among people of all faiths living in our locality. For my family, the month of Ramzan meant a yearly tradition when we would distribute food among all our neighbours. Either we would visit them, or they would come over. "Milne ka bas ek bahaana chahiye hota tha, aur zayka who bahaana hota tha.

I began organizing heritage walks and food walks in Delhi in 2011. I would often talk about the syncretic culture of Delhi before the First War of Independence (1857), and how people would acknowledge and respect each other's faiths. It is around that time that it struck me why not invite people and introduce them to Delhi Ramzan food culture. And thus, it started. We'd begin our walk in the morning from Jama Masjid and head to Chawri Bazaar where we would have some safed chane ki chaat. Then along the way to other nooks and crannies of Old Delhi, we would have a variety of dishes ranging from kachoris, keeme ki lukhmi, anarse ki goliyan, gola kebab among others. We'd then finish iftar and then go somewhere outside for dinner and end the trip with some paan, sherbet and ice cream. 

I didn't organise any iftar food walk this year. "Purani dilli me aajkal bahut bheed ho gayi hai, sukoon nahi hai." However, something very interesting happened. Usually, whenever I go on my heritage walks during Ramzan, I carry some dates with me. On one of those days, a regular participant (I like to call them 'musafir') on my walk came along with her mother. They got pakoras for all of us. Some got grapes and dry fruits. And gradually we all had a sumptuous iftaar meal together. I felt it was my best iftaar to date. 

"Aisa laga jaise dastarkhwan muqammal ho gaya." 

MUTI UDDIN (aka MUTI PEHELWAN) has been setting up their dastarkhwan at the Jama Masjid since 1998. 

"My father had been to Mecca for the Haj and there he saw people being offered food during iftaar. He really liked the idea and decided to do the same here in Delhi. Since then, it's been a custom for our family -- my father, his brothers, me, my brothers and cousins. I have been seeing this since my childhood. 'Roz iftaar karane see sawab milta hai,' my father firmly believed that and so do we." 

Muti's family creates a schedule from the first day of Ramzan to Eid and makes sure they offer iftaar to every worshipper after the asr namaz. They distribute around 200-250 iftar packets every day; our packet includes a banana, samosa, bread pakoda, jalebi, dates and some water. 

"It's nothing fancy but we try our best, we do it from our heart and I think that is what matters at the end of the day. We are so lucky that over these years we have offered our services to countless people coming to the Masjid and in the process we have connected countless souls. There are some who have in fact made it their habit to have iftaar at our dastarkhwan after offering their namaz. We have no banner, no hoarding...we are just the 'minar ke neeche wala dastarkhwan'." 



ABBAS DALAL, noted Bollywood screenwriter, shared a rave review of the Iftar Box created by Tri'oh - Sips & Bites. It has also garnered a lot of attention and adulation in the city. Be it RJ Malishka, filmmaker and choreographer Farah Khan or Dalal's younger brother and dialogue writer Hussain Dalal -- everybody has showered praises on the food hamper. 

Abbas writes: "Hasan bhai’s Iftar Box is not just a roza keeper’s delight but it is also a treasure box of the infamous jewels from Bombay. The nan sandwich; the red sauce drumsticks; the malai tikka; the chicken cheese rolls; all come together to form a magical cacophony that screams Bombay food like never before. It has a set menu that will satiate every taste bud that exists: From the baida roti for tawa geeks to the dragon chicken for the Chinese aficionado and the nihari nan for the nawabi mizaaj

Finishing off with the juicy pan and mango phirni to clean and refresh the palate. Clean, crisp, creative and a culinary marvel -- this Iftar Box has added sheer delight to the divine of Ramadan. 

Since 1952, Jaffer Ghulam Mansuri (founder of Mumbai's iconic JAFFER BHAI'S DELHI DURBAR chain of restaurants) started making iftaar spreads or thaal. It is now being continued by his son Hassan Jaffer Mansuri. Now with changing trends, they have also ventured into iftaar boxes that get delivered to the customers on a pre-order basis. 

Lodhia, an associate and cousin of Hassan Jaffer Mansuri, spoke with Slurrp and explained: "In Mumbai, during the month of Ramzan there is a tradition to greet people for iftaari by sending food to each other. People inform us a day in advance and place orders which they then distribute among their close friends and relatives." 

Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Durbar also offers catering services to large gatherings during the festival time. There are massive orders starting from 1000-1500 packs. "There's no upper limit," adds Lodhia. He continues, "We do sitting/buffet dining also for these iftaar parties. From mutton shami kebabs, kachcha keema kebab, dabba gosht, mutton biriyani, mutton nihari, chicken Delhi qorma, mutton UP qorma to chicken Russian cutlet, to chicken satay, chicken in Schezwan sauce -- options galore with evolving taste palates of the city. Then for desserts, there's phirni, caramel custard, shahi tukda, gajar halwa, doodhi halwa, among others." 

The food's taste and quality have remained the same over these years, Lodhia says. Some of their legacy recipes, for instance, their mutton dum biriyani continue to be their bestselling dish even at these iftaar parties. "The iconic Jaffer Bhai had mastered the biryani at the age of 14, and he continued making it till he was 84. Today he isn't around, but his legacy continues," he concludes. 

Mumbai-based fashion designer VIIPUL ASIJA shares an experience he recently had in the city which has stayed with him for long now. 

"I work with designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. Every year they throw a grand iftaar party for all their karigars and staff working for them. It’s an annual tradition. Before breaking the fast, all of them face in the direction of Mecca and chant a little prayer. And then break into a date or some salt or water and then a full-fledged meal. 

Much like their couture, the hosts make sure their iftaar food spread is as grand as it can get -- from fresh fruits and starters to main course and a variety of desserts. The starters include chicken tikka, mutton seekh kebab, fish tikka, prawns koliwada, crispy papadi paneer, kung pao aloo, among others. The main course menu is a long list of around 30 dishes such as chhole bhature, methi malai, pav bhaji, keema pav, mutton biryani and butter chicken to name a few. There are also continental and Chinese dishes on the menu. I am a dessert person, so my favourite in the entire spread is their faluda kulfi. I particularly like the intimate setting of the event -- spending quality time with some of your favourite people at work and also some ex-colleagues together makes for a truly festive feast. The clothing theme is always Indian and everybody gets into that festive mood right from the get-go. At that moment, nothing matters. Not your age, not your gender, not your faith. Even those who don't observe the fast sit along with those who do. It just feels as if Eid arrives for those people on that day itself. That's truly one sawab (spiritual reward). 

SHAHEEN PACHA's Zahraa Caterers has been doing iftaar menu in Mumbai for the past 15 years now. She spoke with Slurrp about her business, changing market trends and the city's overall festive spirit. 

"The whole of Ramzan we are catering to three places in Mumbai namely Powaii, Byculla and Cuffe Parade. While there are the traditional iftaar thaal, there are also iftaar boxes and hampers being distributed. These days, a lot of people want to do iftaar with close friends and family, hence they prefer to do it in a nice, lavish way. They want 3-4 types of starters, a decent main course and some desserts. So for us, there are different menus on different days, we cater to around 200-250 people on daily basis during Ramzan. 

"There's nihari, haleem, lamb shoulders, raan of course -- these are the more traditional dishes. This year we did even pani puris and chaats, then there was also phirni, ice cream etc. I guess except for seafood, we are almost making everything." 

"Earlier it was just simple food, now people need a lot of variety. In terms of food, people are now going global - not just Mughlai, they also opt for Chinese and Japanese. I have had orders of blue rice and sushi cakes. We've made both dabba gosht as well as lasagna and garlic cheese buns. We also make special food for sehri (the meal that is had at the crack of dawn) where we serve keema, lamba pav, kebab, nihari with eggs. In fact, there are many iftar parties hosted and organised by non-Bohris and non-Muslims. In many corporate offices, there are non-muslims observing fast in order to experience the whole iftaar vibe."


ABBAS GHOGA’s family has been in this catering industry for at least 60 years now and their style of food is deeply entrenched in the customs and traditions followed by the Dawoodi Bohra community. 

“During Ramzan, we all go to pray in the mosque or a markaz which is set up within our building premises, followed by an iftaar dinner. For breaking the fast we usually have some dates and biscuits, as prescribed by our spiritual leader. Post our namaz we all sit in our traditional format, around what we call the ‘thaal’, and have our dinner-cum-iftaar properly,” Ghoga mentions. 

This dinner is also set in a prescribed format. It must have one mithas (sweet dish), one kharas (savoury dish), roti with a gravy dish (to enable people who may be diabetic), a rice preparation, a salad or chaat, one fruit and one fresh drink (preferably fruit juice). 

Ghoga gives an overview of the food prepared during the holy month of Ramzan for his iftaar orders. "For our iftaar catering, we also cook and supply several traditional items such as samosas, raan, halwan sheermal, kache gosht ki biryani, hand-churned sancha ice creams, kaju pak, dabba gosht to name a few. We have also diversified our cuisine to incorporate some Thai, Lebanese dishes too for giving a change of taste to people. In our private iftaar giveaways we make customised iftaar boxes for people on prior order basis where we give them a mix and match of the items which can be customised like chicken fillets, baida roti, rolls, paya, nihari, kapadvanji seekh etc." 

Ghoga’s office is in Mumbai Bohri Mohalla, but his kitchen operates from Dockyard Road in Mazgaon. Over the years, he has catered to several families, corporate offices as well as foreign consulates. Despite many changes and additions to the menu, his philosophy around food has remained largely the same. “We Bohris have been taught to not waste a single grain of food. And this is not to be practised just around Ramzan but all throughout our life. While most of my clients belong to the Dawoodi Bohri community and are well aware of these guidelines, we make sure that our clients from other communities are also communicated the same. Be it weddings or other functions, we tell them to ensure there is no food wastage. And so far, we have always received positive feedback.”