Cities & Architecture

For Bengaluru, Iftar is an Occasion for Some Gluttony

In which our hungry writer sets out to discover that formerly quiet hamlets in her city are now brimming with some exotic foods

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Tasty and tempting delights on the streets of Bengaluru during Ramzan (Photo: Hareesh P Warrier)

We didn’t have Iftar markets once. Not this teeming mela of men, women, food, smells, noises, stray snatches of conversation, beggars, garbage and the collective exhalation of satisfaction when the human soul has satiated greed. In various parts of the city, especially the traditional market zones – Sivaji Nagar, Johnson Market and City Market, Iftar was celebrated with a few food stalls. Bengaluru, the city of conspicuous consumption as it is now was still a pupae wrapped in its silken coils of genteel existence then.

For someone who has lived in Bangalore as long as I have, the emergence of this city of hustle and bustle be it traffic, start ups, big brands or indeed Iftar markets came as a shock to the system. I belonged to a Bengaluru whose idea of street food was to drive to the Lakeview or Airlines for apricots and cream or dosa and coffee served on a metal tray clipped to your car window. Food carts serving an assortment of chat, bajis and bondas, vadas and kebabs, dosa and eggs and even biriyani, rice and saaru existed but it was very much a treat for a college student slumming or subsistence for the proletariat. No bourgeoisie man, woman or child would be seen eating from a food cart. In fact, there was a healthy abhorrence for people who went around licking ice cream cones or nibbling corn on the cob.

The transition was almost seamless. One day the kerb had a random peanut or guava seller and the next day it seemed you could buy there pretty much any kind of cuisine from momos to fish fry to beef biriyani. As any garden economist would tell you there is a direct correlation to demand and supply. Bengaluru had emerged as a butterfly and to quote the superhit-now-caught-in-a-piracy-controversy Malayalam film Premam: Bengaluru is a mentally metal butterfly.

Once upon a time Mosque Road was a quiet tree lined avenue that had a video shop, an ice cream parlour, a hole in the wall called Albert bakery, old monkey top bungalows and a giant drain that cut through the road. This was a road on which I took my baby in a pram for a quiet stroll. The baby is now trekking in Himachal and Mosque Road is anything but quiet. Every square inch is dedicated to the worship of the cash register.

Food stalls all over the place

A few years ago the food stalls began appearing during Ramzan, but in the last two years, the Mosque Road Iftar market has to it the significance of the Xmas tree at Rockafeller Center in New York City. Everyone from everywhere comes there at least once. Young and old couples. Families and loners. Work groups and golf buddies, rent-a-day doped out babies attached to young beggar women, gee gaw merchants, balloon sellers, the epileptic and the woman with elephantiasis.

From what was once a traditional Muslim preserve, the Iftar market is de rigueur for the new Bengalurean. This species who has sampled the street food of Bangkok and Singapore, and eaten at the several Kerala Moplah restaurants that now serve middle eastern cuisine knows his Al faham from his shawarma. From there it is only a step away for him or her to pathar ka gosht or a camel kebab.

There are several Iftar markets in Bangalore now. But for atmosphere and a sense of being transported into the land of true gluttony it is either Mosque Road, Sivaji Nagar or Johnson Market. So much so there are even Iftar food walks to these three destinations at Rupees 999/- per head over the weekends.

Haleem, samosa and much else

There are standard favourite foods – the haleem and the samosa, the beef roll and the theether (quail) fry, the roofazha and double ka meetha but I knew if I looked hard I may find one curiosity that would be a true piece of exotica even for Mosque Road.

Then I saw him as he stood shaving the sides of what looked like the pith of a palm. He sliced thin round wafers from the top and as if it were a crepe, he rubbed a slice of lime on it and sprinkled sugar. Rs 10 a slice. He called it a shakkarkhand. If it were a sweet potato, then I am an astronaut. It tasted like a palate cleanser, sharp, sweet and cool. Camels, trees, what next?

The crowd kept swelling. A police patrol vehicle with sirens on drove through the traffic. It was empty. Were the policemen nibbling on a jhinga fry or feasting on a kebab? Everybody gnawed, nibbled, chomped, chewed and then it occurred to me why I had been troubled ever since I got here.

The Iftaar market seemed to be for everyone but whom it was truly meant for. The entire clientele was almost non-Muslim. So what did the Muslim man and woman actually eat when it was time to break the fast? And thereafter? And who cooked?

Anita Nair is the author of several novels. Her books have been translated into over thirty languages around the world. She is also the founder of the creative writing and mentorship program Anita’s Attic. Reach her at www.anitasattic.com