Story of Sehri to Iftaari- A foodwalk in Zakaria Street
“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself”. -Anthony Bourdain
Holy month of Ramzan (festival of Muslim religion), which usually falls during the summer months between April to July. This year (2018) it was as usual hot and sultry, as the monsoon was still about to hit the East Coast of India. I happened to pay a short visit one evening to the most sought after food lanes in the oldest neighborhood of Kolkata. It is located in Chitpur Road (Rabindra Sarani) which is the North Central business district of Shohor-Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). This place is also famous for having one of the largest (principal) mosque in this area – Nakhoda Masjid. The architectural grandeur of Nakhoda Masjid clearly defines the Mughal influence, which still hold its charm even after so many years. Infact, a very interesting fact that I came to know that this very place also remained untouched from the British colonial influence and if one passes through the lane, it definitely gives the old city vibes dating from the Era of Mughals.
During the month of Ramzan (Ramadan in Arabic) which is the ninth month in the Islam lunar calendar. Muslims fast from morning to evening for the period of 30 or 29 days which ends on the auspicious day of Eid and is then celebrated with much pomp and gusto. As per the custom, the ritual is to have a share of meal before sunrise which is known as “Sehri” and then again having the next meal just after sunset which is known as “Iftaari”, the same is continued for the said number of fasting days.
During this period, entire Zakaria street and the Nakhoda Masjid area comes alive burstling with various spread of food stalls, clothes shop and other accessories. All the labyrinth lanes near Masjid turns into a big food souk selling delicious items ranging from flavored drinks, variety of cut fruits, dried fruits, kebabs, food ingredient, spices and not to forget undeniably delicious deserts.
When I reached there at 6 pm on a weekday, I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of flanking crowd. It took me few minutes just to get used to of “20 second rule” (which is, not to stand at one place but to keep moving with the crowd, lol), because had I stood for longer than required at one place, I was either getting elbowed out or gently pushed by the moving mass. As soon as I reached there, I grabbed a bottle of Roohafza water (selling in every corner for Rs. 10) to cool myself down. Ok, don’t ask me regarding the hygiene and about the water purity, coz I clearly kept my fastidious habits back home in order to binge here.
Next, I walked further through the narrow lanes which were either covered with cloth shops or shiny new footwear hanging right above our heads. The fruit seller made the best out of this occasion, as one of the major portions of Iftaari spread also includes various assorted fresh cut fruits like banana, papaya, mango, apple or dates.
Next, as I walked through, there was numerous hawkers selling raw material like sewai (vermicelli) or Laccha which is one of the main ingredient in the desert preparation during the celebration of Eid amongst Muslims.
Other items like breads, biscuits and assorted dried fruits which was a mixed of air dried cashew, raisins, dates, coconut, almond, nuts and some other items were being sold at bulk at a minimal rates.
Next we came across several shops selling, Bakarkhani which are big thick flat bread coated with poppy seeds and Sheermal which is a sweet saffron flavoured nan type bread, made mostly with milk and is sweet in taste, are mostly consumed along with milk.
One of the major reasons for visiting these iconic area is majorly because of the famous kebabs and various Mughlai preparation which has been always popular throughout the year. From various kebabs like Pyaari, Boti,Malai,,Hariyalli ,Reshmi, Kheeri or Sutli Kebabs, the list were endless. Out of such plethora of choices, I went on to try out the two most popular item which is Sutli kebab (kebabs made of mince tender beef meat so tenderly delicate that it needs to be tied around the skewer with the help of a thread and not skewers) and Kheeri kebabs which are made of cow mammary glands. For those who doesn’t prefer beef can try out Mahi Akbari (mughal style marinated fish tandoori preparation) or the famous chicken changhezi (mughal version of tandoori chicken coated in secret spice recipe) from Taskeen’s. Oh, my mouth still slurps by the thought of it.
What’s iftaar without having Haleem. One of the most common and must have dish while breaking the fast. There are variety of Haleem preparation with choice of meat or may be not (there is Arbi haleem for vegetarians). It is basically a stew which is having concoction of various lentils, spices and meat chunks slow cooked in a large utensil over a slow flame. I decided to pack myself a plate of Beef Haleem from the famous shop of Sufia.
No, Kolkatans would deny their love for Biryani which is very much similar to Lucknawi style. The top picks at Zakaria streets for Haleem and Biriyani is Aminia and Sufia.
So, after a hearty binge when my heart and stomach was about to get satiated. It was time to slurp onto some delicious dessert to end my foodwalk on a perfect note. So for, “kuch meetha ho jaaye” section – I chose Faluda from Taskeen. Then there were choices to tickle our sweet tooths like lassi, Firni, Gulab Jamun, Halwa and various other mewa based sweets which are sold at the generation old sweet shops like Bombay Sweets.
For me, I realized that one visit is simply not enough to savour all which has in offer. I definitely would like to visit again to try out all the other items which I was eyeing on but my appetite didn’t allow further.
So, how about you? Did you visit similar places in your city and tried out something which is a must try. Would love to hear your experience on that.
Disclaimer: Thoughts and reviews are purely based on my individual experience and there are no compensation involved. Copyright of the photographs are strictly reserved with the author of this article.