By Team FoodeMag: We caught up with a few special women on their Ramadan memories that mark this auspicious month. The common thread binding all of them… they are all successful women entrepreneurs in the food business. Shafeena Yusuff Ali from India, is the CEO of Tablez Food Company, which has 30 restaurants under its group including the renowned home grown concept – Bloomsbury’s; Sidiqa Sohail is half-Emirati and half-Pakistani, and is the MD and owner of boutique cafe cum bakeshop Spontiphoria in Al Wasl Square in Jumeirah; Dima Sharif is an artisan chef, avid food blogger and the author of the recently launched Palestinian cookbook Plated Heirlooms and has her own line of Organic Mooneh (Pantry) Essentials retailing from selected speciality stores; Arva Ahmed originally hails from Hyderabad and is the founder of Frying Pan Adventures, the first food tour in this region that explores the culinary back streets of Dubai and makes them look fashionable enough to be featured in the CNN, amongst other international media channels.
Shafeena Yusuff Ali
Ramadan has always been a time for patience, spiritual reflection, worship and spending time with family in devotion. Those feelings have only intensified over the years and today I try to germinate them in my screen-addicted children. Every year, I also learn while I teach them to be kinder than the previous year, not just to the society, but also to those in one’s family and home, and more importantly to one’s self.
The recipe of Jeeraka Kanji or the Cumin Flavoured Rice Soup combines my Ramadan of the past to this present time, and I remember when this flavorful soup would fill me up in the nights, especially when I would not want to eat much. Each house makes the classic Kerala dishes differently and this one in particular, is my mother in law’s recipe – spicier and has more flavor than the usual Jeeraka Kanji. I am blessed indeed to have a big family – to love and be loved by.
Click here for the recipe.
For me, Ramadan is a time when things slow down and we really get to enjoy spending quality time with family and friends in an atmosphere that is special. The rest of the year we are constantly running errands and are on a tight schedule but in Ramadan, all this takes a back seat. So quite often, the nicest memories are made during Ramadan. It is also a time where people really get creative in the kitchen. For me, I learnt how to cook in Ramadan when I was 16 years old – somehow I had enough time to try out a new recipe every afternoon after school. I’ve put all those recipes together in a hand-written scrapbook and I still refer back to them from time to time, for example, when I feel like making potato croquettes or a salami risotto!
Click here for the recipe of her Ramadan special creation – CupCakaron ~ a Hybrid Cupcake & Macaron!
While normally the lunch would be the main family meal, during the Holy month, the main meal shifts to early evening at sunset. My most vivid memories of Ramadan include that moment before the Maghrib prayer was called out and our evening breakfast started. Usually, that is a very tranquil time of the day, with my mum putting the final touches on the plated foods, garnishing with toasted pine nuts, herbs and we would be carrying the plates over to the dining table – one of us would be pouring the soup into the individual soup plates. The best thing about Ramadan table is the variety of food, not necessarily in huge quantities, but always the plethora of options to cater to each one’s preferences and tastes. We’d all sit at the table, mostly quiet at that time. Once the Athan was heard, we’d start eating and chatting – we would be talking about our day, what had been good and significant that day. My parents loved listening to us and would give advise – since we wouldn’t be going anywhere and were seated for the meal, we would most likely listen to what they had to say! I must say that the Ramadan table was a great opportunity for making family connection and that did not only transpire to just us, and in fact, extended to the visitors as well. At a Ramadan table, people are more eager to share, to connect and to converse and somehow it felt like people listened more.
My fondest and my favourite memory and of Ramadan however, is that everyday about one and a half hour before Iftar, my dad would take us in the car and we would go to the market to buy fresh bread, fresh atayef disks and a fresh bowl of hummus and falafel. If you have been fasting, the last few hours are the hardest – you are tired, hungry and could use any distraction from those feelings that you get. And I just loved that daily trip to the market – we talked, and somehow because you are fasting, your sense of smell becomes so sharp, you actually smell the freshness of the bread. The aromas of food every where, from the orange blossom in the atayef batter, to the toasted flour on the bread to the smell of the frying oil in which the fresh falafels are being dipped, one by one, to be fried… It is such a sensory experience that is sharpened by fasting. By the time we got home, mum would have finished all the cooking and it was only a matter of minutes finishing up with the setting of the table and then savouring the much-awaited meal.
Ramadan is about connection. Be it one’s connection with the creator, or that with the self or family and friends and that to me is the most unforgettable memory of this Holy Month. And this is why I still appreciate this very special month to date, and aspire to pass this experience to my kids.
My childhood memories of Ramadan are a mixed bag of associations – proud restraint, enticing kitchen aromas, intense hunger, heightened appreciation for the bare essentials, anticipation for Eid. I remember going to school and having to constantly remind myself to not drink or eat by mistake – something I’d done at least once every season! I remember walking through the door after school and being overcome by the aromas of food cooking in my mother’s kitchen. I remember falling into the bed for the last few hours, hoping to soothe my crying stomach over with a wave of sleep. I remember standing around the TV with my family, waiting in anticipation for the televised scene of canons going off and the call to prayer. I remember the feeling of relief when the first date disappeared into the void of my cavernous stomach, followed by the cool trickle of water gradually awakening my dehydrated limbs back to life. I remember Iftar with such joy because every day mum served us a different reward: samosas stuffed with her legendary lentil mix, batter-fried chillies with bellies of tamarind and sesame paste, spiced corn drenched in butter and lime, tender shami kabab with tangy chutney, lentil fritters floating about a creamy yoghurt gravy tempered with chillies and cumin (dahi wada). I remember Suhour with far less joy – it was always challenging to be woken up by my parents at that time of the morning and not be cranky at the world! And the last few days were always the best, because you know Eid and endless sweets and celebrations are right around the corner. My Ramadan memories are so tied into my family that when I left for college, the Holy Month never felt the same.
Do read Arva’s epic round up post on Arabic sweets – The Halawiyat Collection!