A month filled with excitement, aromas and delicious indulgent food

“The excitement of Ramadan is very well celebrated in Pakistan. Being one of the largest Muslim countries of the world, this is a very important month, socially, religiously and spiritually.”

– Sumayya Jamil, London based Cookery Teacher and Food Writer 

One of the most noticeable qualities of Pakistani cuisine, to me, is that it is very aromatic, almost perfumed to be more accurate. This is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think Pakistani food. It is always the smell that starts this eating experience, followed by the beauty of its appearance and finally when you taste it… I mean it is definitely special, very layered and definitely not shallow.

Preparing for communal Iftar at the Mosque Photo provided by Sumayya Jamil, Taken by Athar Hussain

To think that I, like many others, used to think Pakistani and Indian cuisines were one and the same! I never could tell the difference at first! Perhaps for a palate – that back then had been – so undaring to venture into the world of heat, that whenever the opportunity presented itself, the same palate was so focused on the heat that it missed everything else! But the beauty of heat is that once you buckle up your courage to face it, it makes way for everything else to be revealed, and you can then taste more clearly. Then, the cuisine stands out for its own right. One that is really bold, very well flavoured with layers upon layers of flavour stories to tell. The heat then becomes one of the mesmerising factors of this flavour palate.Like the cuisine, Pakistan is a country that is very multi-layered, and one whose people are always available and willing to explore with you their food and culture. Being one of the largest Muslim communities in the world, fits Pakistan right in this Ramadan Special, and who better to speak with about Pakistan’s Ramadan Traditions and food than the lovely and super talented cookery teacher and food writer Sumayya Jamil, who is a UK based specialist in Pakistani and Muslim heritage food and culture? So we chatted about Ramadan in Pakistan and here are some of what we talked about…Pakistani Kitchen Prep Prior to RamadanWhile most perishable foods are bought fresh on the day, some ingredients have to be stocked in advance. This prior prep creates a sense of excitement in anticipation of the Holy month and puts everyone in the spirit of Ramadan as described by Sumayya.

“When I reminisce about preparations for Ramadan in Pakistan, I remember well that a couple of weeks before Ramadan, my mother used to collect key Ramadan dry cupboard essentials such as lentils, dry roasted vermicelli, dates, Rooh Afza (a floral based drink), flour for parathas and samosas, chickpea flour for pakoras, chickpeas both black and regular and rice. All perishables were always brought fresh on the day. There was always sense of excitement mingled with urgency and expectation. A month of contemplation and perseverance stood before us and preparing for it was as wonderful as the month itself.” 

And while home cooks stock their pantries with Ramadan essentials required for making their family meals, they do not forget those whose circumstances are unfortunate and in true Ramadan spirit, they collect the ingredients needed to stock these people’s pantries too.

“To us this is a month of respecting food, where it comes from and those less fortunate. We would always prepare similar dry ingredient boxes for the poor and distribute these before Ramadan as well.” explained Sumayya.

Pakistani Markets during Ramadan – Rooh Afza in bags Photo provided by Sumayya Jamil

How is Ramadan cooking different from the rest of the year? & what does Pakistani cuisine offer during Ramadan?According to Sumayya, During Ramadan Pakistanis tend indulge more in their food as they cook a lot more with ghee (clarified butter), and generally consume more dairy intake. Cooks will also prepare fried foods as well as foods that have a slow release of carbohydrates such as chickpeas and lentils.

“Most of the year we do eat similar food, but specifically streets are laden with fried foods for Iftar such as pakoras, samosas and sugary jalebis which are Ramadan delights only!” she says. She also explains that most people cook at home, but will also buy snacks from street vendors to complement their home cooked meals. The food of choice for most people is traditional cuisine.

“For us Ramadan is a celebration of Pakistani food and most families would only ever enjoy typical Ramadan dishes during this month – I however can’t think of anything I would never eat!”

The Pakistani Repertoire of Ramadan Foods

“As Iftar approaches, our kitchens would come alive with the scent of hot, tantalizing snacks. Our Iftar meal is one full of energy inducing foods followed shortly by dinner. More meat based and rice based dishes also feature such as Haleem, Nihari, Biryani and chickpea Pullao (stock cooked rice)” 

So if you are thinking of hosting a Pakistani style Iftar, there is a huge list of Ramadan food to choose from, below are some of these foods explained by Sumayya:

Most Popular Pakistani Iftar Foods

  • Dahi Baras or Dahi Phulkis (Lentil based fritters, softened with a topping of whipped savoury yoghurt, chopped coriander, mint, green chili ginger, red chili, with Chaat masala (a mix of cumin, dried mango powder, pepper and other mixed spice).
  • Chola Chaat (Chickpea based mixed salad with tamarind sauce, mint, coriander, cumin, tomatoes and potatoes)
  • Shami Kebabs (Beef based finely minced kebabs with Chana lentil, fresh coriander, mint, ginger and infused with whole garam masalas)
  • Mixed Vegetable Pakoras (Assorted mixed vegetables such as sliced potatoes, aubergines, okra, green chillies dipped in spicy chickpea batter and lightly fried) find the recipe on this link
  • Haleem (wheat germ, oats, lentil and beef or chicken based stew topped with fresh herbs, green chili and ginger)
  • Jalebis (Sweet cardamom infused doughnuts dipped in sugar syrup)
  • Samosas (Wholewheat flour based pastry parcels stuffed with a variety of fillings, potatoes, cheese, spicy beef mince, sometimes sweet fillings too such as coconut, bananas and sometimes halva (my family recipe!))
  • Daal with Bhagar (Lentil of any sort tempered with oil or ghee, cumin, garlic and red chili topped with fresh herbs.)
  • Kachumber (Mixed raw salad of finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, coriander, mint and green chili and lemon juice and cumin) find the recipe on this link
  • Pakwan (North Pakistani biscuits made with aniseed, pink salt, figs and nuts)
  • Chickpea Pulao (Basmati rice with whole garam masalas and chickpeas cooked in their own stock)
  • Fruit Chaat (Sweet and savoury mixed fruit salad with spicy Chaat masala (explained above))
  • Biryani (Either chicken, mutton or beef based biryani, layered rice and curry dish infused with saffron and Kewra (screwpine water) )
  • Chai (Milky tea cooked with tea leaves, with or without cardamom but always lots of sugar)

Most Popular Pakistani Sehri (Suhour) Foods

  • Dahi aur Gur (A personal favourite of Buffalo full-cream milk yoghurt, with fresh cream pieces within it and topped with raw sugar cane molasses)
  • Spicy Eggs / Khakeena (Scrambled eggs with cumin, fresh coriander, tomatoes, green chillis)
  • Plain or stuffed Parathas (Plain or vegetable or meat stuffed flaky flatbreads made with whole-wheat and plain flour and cooked with ghee (clarified butter))
  • Puri (Wholemeal flour based flatbread deep -fried)
  • Sujji ka Halva (Semolina halva made with cardamom, nuts cooked in ghee (clarified butter))
  • Nihari (Beef or lamb-based slow cooked curry)
  • Seviyan (Sweet roasted vermicelli cooked in milk and infused with saffron and topped with nuts, raisins and silver leaf. More an Eid recipe, but some families like to eat this at either Sehri or at the end of Iftar as a dessert ) find the recipe on this link

Pakistani Ramadan Traditions

Sumayya explained to me that one of the most prominent features of Ramadan in Pakistan is the free Iftars given out at mosques, and many people offering free food to poor people on the ‘big’ Ramadan days such as the 27th fast or the last Friday of Ramadan, called ‘Jumma-tul-veeda’.

Breaking the fast is traditionally done by starting with a Medjool date followed by Rooh Afza (rose flavoured sherbet) with basil seeds, which are meant to give you instant energy. “Nearly everyone would have a warm cup of Chai (tea) after Iftar. Pakistanis love their tea and probably miss it more than food during Ramadan!”

Then most people either follow on a dinner after their Maghrib (sunset) prayers or eat dinner much later. Most nights during Ramadan, many people go to the mosque for Taravi (evening) prayers late at night and some stay awake until Sehri (Suhour) and sleep after their Fajir (morning) prayers until they need to go to work. “Many of us girls used to play night volleyball whereas most boys and men would play night cricket right till Sehri time! ”

 

Sumayya was very generous to share with us 3 of her Pakistani Ramadan Recipes! find them on the links below:

Hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and getting to know more about Ramadan in Pakistan. 

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end – all out there for us to explore…

Ramadan Kareem

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