Text By: Madhulika Dash
Ever heard of the adage “When in Rome, Eat Like The Romans,” and wondered how does one do it? Well, ask this to people who live to eat and you are likely to be shown two ways: One- the dangerous, eat all and figure; and Two- ask an expert.
We take the second route to give you tips on how you can chart your own food adventure this Ramadan with our guide Zamir Khan, a food aficionado who is into the business of PR and marketing.
What qualifies him? As the corporate communication head of some of the biggest names in food business today – the iconic Masala Library By Jiggs Kalra as one of them – he has the best (and worst) inside view of restaurants, big, small and even heritage. And he has been to almost all the night food markets – and knows a thing or two about navigating those delicious lanes for satiation and indulgence.
An Half-full stomach and low expectation
Yes! You want to splurge on Ramadan, it is the season to get some great food, which otherwise you would only find in a Muslim friend home. True that! But the popularity of these food markets have over the years commercialized the production and there is a good chance that you may find the dish you are looking for, it will be a shade or three lower than what you would find in the same place during regular months.
So visit the market with a full stomach, so that you relish and not gorge and keep your expectation of finding something really out of the world low. There is a good chance you may find more friends and happy hosts than dishes.
They are no specials
Sorry to burst the bubble, so early! But most street markets are not what they were once used to be. Thanks to commercialization- food is mass produced, with little care given to the quality and taste. So here’s what I do: I go in for specials if they are one of two and only after asking what is so special about it.
Most specials I have come across, with very few exceptions, have been the usual tangdi kebab tossed in a butter sauce and presented with plate-full of onions and watery mint-chilli chutney. If I cannot understand a dish, I chuck it.
This cardinal rule of Restaurant eating also applies to the food escapades during Ramadan for two very good reasons: One- it gets you the best treat and Two - allows you to walk around the area to chart how you would like to navigate the street once the crowd comes in, which is usually after the Isha Namaaz.
But it goes real well if you are exploring the market place for the first time. But if you are not an early riser, then make it in the end, around dawn when you get to taste the different Sehri, made fresh.
Brace and Pace it out
Is there a trick to try it all in the right way? I have been often asked this, and honestly, I do not really have a correct answer to it. So this is what I do: I begin with dates and some fresh fruits, especially watermelon and then slowly move my way onto heavier stuff like kebab, nihari, keema, the different kinds of breads, sweets (only if I find them really interesting and not chocolate dipped malpua), some more fruits again and then finish with a traditional Sulemani Chai.
Over the years of eating out, I have realised one thing that sweets like Phirni, Kheer and Kulfi are better somewhere in the middle of the feasting. They give a nice break, make you drink water and clear your palate for the next. Fruits on the other hand are a better finish, so if you are in Lucknow, you have to try the Dusseri Mangoes. And tea is an open secret to good digestion followed by Paan. The other trick I follow is to try only one dish in a place, so I can try out more places, with little to show for later.
Find your spot
One of the biggest disappointments in the years of Ramzan food walks which I have experienced is that : Many of the so-called iconic places really serve at an average fare during the month – be it in Mohammad Ali Road, Park Street or Chowk in Lucknow. And yet, every year I love to go back to different places to explore the different night food markets. What makes me do that?
It’s the best time to explore new spots that suits your taste, mood and palate. And this is how I go about doing it: I sample the fare in a few places, make a mental note of the places I liked and then head back to it again a few days later to see if there is consistency. Because in the food world, it’s consistency and taste that make a dish, remarkable – and the place iconic.
But Remember to Gorge On
Dates, fruits, nuts and sherbets....! Believe it or not, it is the season where you indeed get some of the best produce sourced from across the world.
Inputs from Zamir Khan, An Independent Hospitality Brand Consultant
Image Courtesy: Twitter