A Turkish Iftari dinner

When I discovered that our holiday in Turkey spilled into the month of Ramazan, I was very happy. Each ethnicity of muslims have their own special food at Ramazan, and I was eager to discover Turkey’s. On the first night of the month we were in Kusadasi. Walking along the sea front, looking for a place for dinner we came across a lively and pleasant restaurant. We later realized that it was part of a big Turkish chain.

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The menu advertised an Iftari dinner. Could I do justice to it? Travel is always an adventure, and you have to jump in. It was the first of Ramazan too. I ordered my three course meal. It came with a glass of the thick buttermilk which is called ayran in Turkey. The first dish was the usual platter which breaks a fast. There’s always a date, some nuts and more dried fruit, olives, some fresh vegetables. I was disappointed that the platter did not have any cheese; I’d begun to expect a Kashar (cow’s milk cheese) or Tulum (goat’s milk cheese) on every meze platter.

A little break, and then the çorba arrived. It was a tomato soup, served with croutons and grated Kashar. There was a long break before the main plate arrived, giving me enough time to regret ordering such a large meal. The main plate was a tremendous serving of kababs over a lavaş (pronounced lavash, meaning a nan). I would become very fond of the seared vegetables that accompany a kabab in Turkey. There is also always a serving of chopped garden salad on the plate with it.

When I eventuially finished the meal, I realized that it was difficult to work your way through a meal like this unless you had fasted during the day. The çay was needed at the end of such a meal.

Goodbye to Cappadocia

At first sight Göreme was charming. The village emerged from caves carved into cliff-sides, fairy chimneys dotted about the town! After spending a few days in Cappadocia, I thought it wasn’t nearly as lovely as I’d first thought. The town was a typical tourist hub, full of cheap things, lots of hotels and tour agencies. But then on my last evening I was charmed again by the cars I saw while walking around town.

The parked one was a beauty. But earlier in the evening, while searching for a place where could taste the Cappadocia wines, we’d come across another beauty. A 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe? Not quite that classic, but a beauty nevertheless. I passed another classic convertible. I may sometimes miss a car, but a convertible makes The Family stop and look every time. This was no exception. I also admired the look of the Göreme Cafe; there was not a single person there below the age of seventy. This wasn’t the place we were looking for.

Later, after a tasting a couple of wines we walked back to our hotel. Most shops had closed. We passed one of the many carpet shops in the town, just as it was about to shut. The next day would be the beginning of the month of Ramazan, a time when nights become more lively. Very early the next morning I heard drums on the road announcing the approach of sunrise. This is an old Turkish custom, warning people during Ramazan that they have to finish their pre-dawn breakfast, Sehri, before the sun rises.

I could get another hour of sleep before leaving to catch our flight on to Izmir and the Aegean coast. I caught a breakfast at a small kiosk (a word which changed meaning as it came into English from Turkish through French) at the airport. After choosing a freshly pressed orange juice, a coffee, and a fresh-baked pretzel I stepped back to take a photo. The shop had everything that a traveler might need: food, souvenirs, even some luggage. I clicked a photo of a charming piece of luggage elsewhere in the airport and sent it to the Youngest Niece. Her instant response, “Cute!” She’s at the age when this word is over-used.

Street food heaven

The new moon was sighted last night, so today is the Id that ends the month of Ramazan. I thought this might be a good time to bring out this year’s collection of photos which show the food available at nights during the month of religious remembrance in Islam. As always, click on any of the photos to start on the slide show. For the practicing Muslim, Ramazan is a month of daytime fasts; food is allowed only between sunset and sunrise. The food streets around Muhammad Ali Road in Mumbai are brightly lit and dense with people during this time.

I missed most of the month due to travel, but made sure that in the last week I tried out my favourite places. The food street is surrounded by shops selling shoes, clothes, jewelery and perfume: all of which are de rigeur for the Id lunch. Id-ul-fitr, as you might guess, is a major festival with a daytime feast being a focus. Id mubarak to all.

Half a month

Half the month of Ramazan is over. Those who fast now begin to look forward to the end, and the festival of Id. How do the rest of us know? The signs of the approaching festival are visible on the street. A season of shopping has begun. The night food market near the Minara Masjid in Mumbai is now surrounded by stalls selling clothes and shoes. The shops are so crowded that it is difficult to take photos. I got to take the photo above only because the police started clearing the crowd as I stood there.

attar

Then there are the specialty shops, the extreme end of which is this stall selling attar. The bottles are as much of a collector’s item as the perfume itself. Most of the items on display here are simpler flower extracts. One would have to buy only a small amount because they are highly concentrated. The main shop will have more exotic perfumes; I remember a subtle one extracted from a fungus. This stall was manned by two young boys who decided to play hide-and-seek with my camera. As you can see, I did manage to get one them eventually.

A monsoon Ramazan

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The Muslim calendar follows the moon, and therefore is 11 days shorter than the solar year. As a result, the month of Ramazan shifts over a person’s lifetime. In a couple of years it will have moved out of the monsoon into the heat of May. Then it will be almost 30 years before it coincides with the monsoon again.

For some Muslims, the month of Ramazan is a month of day-long. For those among the rest of us, who are fortunate enough to live in a city with a large Muslim population, this month can be quite the opposite: a month in which every night can be a special feast. The night market around Mumbai’s Minara Masjid is alive these days with "pop-up restaurants" serving wonderful spiced meats with a variety of breads and nans. Over the last decade the area has become more generally known, and a good fraction of Mumbai seems to have passed through the restaurants.

After a heavy meal of spicy meats and fried breads one can press through the crowds to the shops with their special sweets. Last year, while seeking shelter from a sudden shower, we discovered this little shop tucked away in a corner which sells amazing mawa jalebis. The shopkeeper has the look of a sweet-shop owner from a hundred books and movies – sour-tempered and with a waistline which is escaping control. This year we went back for more, even though it didn’t rain.