Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama | It’s The Same Festive Sentiment!

Posted on July 24, 2012

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Whether it is ‘Ramadan Kareem’ in Dubai or ‘Ramzan Mubarak’ in Kolkata, either way this is the holy month for the Muslims the world over. Ramadan has a different effect on Dubai residents – both Muslims and non-Muslims. Everybody is cued in to the holy fervour of the holy month. In the UAE, the non-Muslims too have to refrain from eating and drinking in public during the Roza/fasting hours and Iftar or the fast-breaking-meal can be enjoyed by both the Muslims and the Non-Muslims at lavish IftarBuffets in many restaurants. All ears strain to hear the Cannon boom during Ramadan to signal the end of fasting. In-fact, this is a tradition in Dubai (You may watch here).

This is the first time in many years of our stay in Dubai that I’m outside Dubai during Ramadan. I am off for the summers in Kolkata. And I admit that I’m missing Dubai for more than just the Iftar Buffets. My fellow food bloggers from Fooderati Arabia have been churning out beautiful posts on Ramadan capturing the essence of Ramadan in the lives of local Emiratis, Muslim and non-Muslim residents. Some of them have even created special Ramadan dishes that are now being aired by Noor Dubai TV or Dubai One, 6:30 pm daily with a repeat telecast being aired  the following day at 9:30 am and 3:00 pm.

If I may share with you all – I too will be coming on air with my special Bengali Fusion dessert – Rasgulla Macapuno. I will be uploading the episode the moment it is screened.

My journey in search of Iftar in Kolkata this time

Iftar today was at 6:27 pm (the calculation of the prayer timings is a very laborious process). I dragged the Z-SISTERS to Mallick Bazaar with the intention of having an Iftar meal in one of the many Muslim restaurants that are around in the area. The thin crescent of the moon peeping through the electricity lines of the trams, the faint sound of Adhan or Azaan drifting from the far-away minarets, the prayer-goers flocking to their loved ones so that they can break their Rozas/fast together – yes, I was feeling the spirit of Ramadan.

The road-side kiosks of Mallick Bazar was full of Samaiya/Semolina, mixed fruits, Firni mix, glass bangles and mersmerised the Z-SISTERS. They live in a different world and I’m taking them everywhere from Howrah to Kumortuli, just so that they are aware of the world around them – far away from the flower-painted walls of their room.

We stood in front of Shiraz Golden Restaurant (yes, the same Shiraz which has a branch in Bur-Dubai). And no, outsiders are not allowed inside the restaurants during Iftar. The shutters are half-closed and only the male staff and family members are allowed into the restaurants to break the Roza. The same holds for Rahmania, another restaurant just across the street. We waited. Big Z looked exasperated. But we had to wait. We were told that the restaurants would open for public at 7:00pm.

As Iftar set in everybody set out to break their Roza. An amazing experience ensued. People formed groups – on the roads, in corners, behind stalls and prayed on the street and started picking on dates and nuts and other savouries from the same plate. Though I didn’t feel like prying into their privacies I have to admit that I almost struggled to keep my camera to myself.

We waited in-front of Rahmania as the staff inside were having their Iftar meals. There was a strong breeze bringing in the aroma of the Haleem being cooked in a huge pot over the slow fame.

Shutters rolled up noisily. Tea in huge quantities began to be prepared. People started qeueing up with their own containers to take Halim or Haleem, a special Ramadan dish made of wheat, barley, meat (usually beef or mutton, but sometimes chicken or minced meat), lentils and spices. This dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, blending the flavors of spices, meat, barley and wheat. Because of the difficult in cooking, Halim is a delicacy and it is cooked in large quantities in a huge aluminum cooking pot. In the Park Circus and Mallick Bazar area, there are many alleys and small restaurants where you’ll find long queues for Haleem. We too queued for Haleem and took a container home.

It was a long wait but worth every second of it. Both the Haleem and the over-boiled milk tea!

After taking Haleem from Rahmania we crossed the street and arrived at Shiraz. Crossing the crowded street with plying trams and many cars zipping past us along with the Z-SISTERS and making sure that the hot Haleem doesn’t spill out of it’s container – well, was a small journey by itself!

In-front of Shiraz too, people queued up for Haleem. The doors opened much later than 7:00pm. I sneaked inside to take a few pictures so that I could share the photographs of the original Shiraz restaurant with my Dubai readers who are aware of the Shiraz Golden Restaurant, located in Bur-Dubai.

Haleem (both Chicken and Mutton) cost Rs 85/plate in both Shiraz and Rahmania. We took a plate of Mutton Haleem from each restaurant with the intention to compare. But decided at the end not to compare. After all, Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion & worship and definitely not the time to partake in activities like comparing between Haleem prepared by two restaurants, located opposite each other and probably strong arch-rivals of each other! 

As we were leaving Shiraaz, we bumped into the old waiter who has been serving us since eternity. He did us a favour by smiling for my camera!

Firni or Ferni/Rice Pudding

Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Indian

Firni is a traditional Indian Rice Pudding made with powdered Rice and made to set in earthen clay pots. Growing up in Kolkata amidst many religion had it’s own essence – we grew up celebrating every festival from every religion. So we would wait for my Muslim friends to invite us home for Iftar meals. Home-made Dum-Pukht (Dum-Pukht is an old cooking technique where food is cooked on very low flame in sealed containers) Biriyani and many types of desserts of which Firni reigned supreme.

We make Firni very often at home. But following my Mum-in-law’s recipe – which is quite basic but absolutely delicious. But probably the method varies everytime she makes it. And though everytime it tastes equally tasty she can never re-tell me the exact recipe. Hence, resorting to one of my favourite bloggers eCurry, who has compiled a beautiful post on Firni along with the different variations that it is known as around the world – starting from Arroz con leche (Spanish) to Moghlie (Arabic)

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Recipe of Firni from eCurry

Ingredients:
3/4 Cup Raw Basmati Rice
3/4 Gallon Whole Milk
1/2 Quart Half & Half or Evaporated Milk
3/4 Cup Almonds
7-8 Small Green Cardamoms
1.5 Cup Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Saffron
Unsalted Raw Pistachios for Garnish
1 teaspoon Rose Water

Method of Preparation:
– Wash the rich thoroughly & soak in water for about 2 hours. The grains will get longer & whiter. Drain the water & spread all the rice on a paper towel. Set aside till completely dry to touch. The best way would be to leave it overnight
– Soak the Almonds in the water overnight. Peel the almonds. Separate 1/2 Cup and slice them fine. Set the sliced almonds aside
– Peel the cardamoms & take out the seeds
– Take the dry rice, & the cardamom seeds & dry grind till the rice becomes a powder. It should NOT be as fine as confectionary sugar. It should be grainy like regular sugar or like rawa/semolina. Keep aside.
– Take 1/2 cup of milk, saffron & the rest of the unchopped almonds & blend till the almond is all blended with the milk
– Take a thick bottomed pan. Combine all the milk (including the part blended with saffron & almond) & half & half and boil at low heat till it reduces a little bit in amount
– Add the sliced almonds. Now its time to add the dry rice powder. This has to be done in little batches.
– Take a tablespoon of rice powder & slowly add it to the boiling milk, while stirring vigorously to prevent the powder from forming lumps. It should all blend it smooth with no lumps at all
– Continue the same process till all the rice powder is added to the milk
– Boil the milk with everything in it while frequently stirring it, till it starts getting thick & the rice is all cooked. Once cooked the rice grains will look like small cooked semolina/rawa
– Add the sugar & boil some more. If you want the Firni thicker, keep on boiling till it reaches the desired consistency
– Switch off the heat, & add the Rose water
– Top it with more saffron strands if you want. Chill or atleast 4-5 hrs(overnight is better) before serving it

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Do enjoy my Mum-in-law’s Firni set in earthen clay pots. While the photographs are there for you to enjoy my sweet Firni journey and prodding through the crowded Mallick Bazar area, I request you not to use them. Whether it is ‘Ramzan Mubarak’ or it is ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or whether it is Mallick Bazar in Kolkata or Karama in Dubai, the essence of Ramadan is the same everywhere amongst all Muslim household the world wide. Iftar get-togethers with family and friends and enjoying the bonhomie and togetherness. So here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Ramadan!

Unblogging it all… Ishita