By Madhulika Dash
Chef Mir Zafar Ali, Executive Chef, The Leela Palace Bengaluru, waxes eloquence on how the festival of sacrifice has over the years taught him more about food, cuisine and the way of life.
For many, Bakri Eid or Eid al-Adha, as the world knows it, the larger connotation today is that of a feast. Meat fest, more likely. It is a reason to come together, share stories, learn about each other’s life and indulge ourselves. A much-needed induction in today’s age. But isn’t that the core value of any festival? Bakri Eid is no different. In fact, even we as Muslims grew up believing it is a day of revelry. Another Eid, you see. But that was till I became a chef and suddenly festivals began taking a new meaning altogether. Initially, it was a day for which you had to constantly work to create something stunning, outstanding yet saleable. Then it becomes a day when you mark it on the calendar as “full day at work with a new menu” and if lucky enough a day “for family and friends”.
It is but natural for your friends to expect a feast – much like I would on Christmas and Diwali. In fact, it is somewhere between celebrating it as a festival and a feast that the realisation trickles in on the other side of the festival. For me, it wasn’t just about living a noble life, but on the very philosophy of food. Like most traditional festivals, Bakri Eid too follows the fine principle of “making the best of what you have”. And it amply reflects in the food that is made during the time, which is possible because of the generous sharing and charity that happens during the time.
The sacrificed goat is divided into three parts. One part is given to the poor and unprivileged, another part is for extended family and friends and the last part is for your own. Ideally, the last is the smallest portion which is kept. But this sheer rule plays a role of a great equaliser – you can walk into any one’s home and find a lavish meal in progress.
But the real essence of Bakri Eid is how these large exchange of meat is utilised. Mind you, not even the skin or the skull of the goat is let go waste. While the skin is given to the leather shops to create something out of it, the skull and the trotters are used to create a brilliant stock that is used to make shorbas and yakhnis that can be had for breakfast or a hearty, warm dinner at night.
The curious bit is the drill of the feast, how each part is prepped, stored and even cured to add more variety to the day’s feast. The wonder begins with the separation of what we have started defining as prime cuts. They do spoil faster and need to be marinated and kept aside for making kormas for lunch and dinner. Next is the head, which is smashed in small chunks and kept aside for stews. In fact, in olden days, it was the second part of the goat that was cleaned and thrown into a Caldron of water with turmeric and slowly simmered as cooks and homemakers went about working with the rest of the meat.
A special mix of spices finished this stew, which was had over the next couple of days with bread. The trimmings of the meat what is had first. Extremely delicate, these little chunks are first turned into a Shammi Kebab. And the prep work begins while the meat is still warm and can be easily tenderised to give that melt in your mouth feeling. The offals, which can stay for a little longer are usually stored wrapped in leaf for the next few days. It is said that the Nawabs and Nizams were so fond of the offal dishes that they insisted on eating for the next one week. In fact, gurda kaleji and chakna were created to appeal to the whims of the royalty.
For the rest of the meat (yes, there is a lot left), most homes create a cured version which is made of a special spice rub that is massaged on to the meat and then the meat is sewed in strings and then sun-dried for a couple of days. Legend has it that these cured meats often served as the soldier’s ration while they moved. Such delicious were these meat that they needed boiled water to create a soup that could be relished with a hard, sour bread.
Clearly, it was a festival that not only united people together, created a feast to remember but also told how to sustain. And that is the essence of Bakri Eid: Hold what’s dear to you today, but don’t be afraid of letting it go.