This is the Jama Masjid in all its Ramadan glory, lit up and dominating the Old Delhi skyline, thronged with devotees waiting to break their fast. A group of us, including Hemanshu of Eating out in Delhi and Sangeeta of Banaras ka Khana went to soak up the atmosphere on Sunday night . The walk from Chawri Bazaar Metro was more hazardous than usual as we dodged rickshaws racing to spirit their famished passengers to the mosque or home in time for Iftar, the moment the sun goes down and the faithful can eat again.
We arrived at the Jama Masjid just before Iftar, at about 6.45 and the scene was chaotic: thousands clamouring to get into the mosque, armed with tiffins and bags overflowing with tasty treats; skull cap and fruit-sellers doing a frenzied trade. In the nearby bazaar Kababchis and Biryiani Walas were cooking up a storm; stalls groaned with bubbling Shahi Tukda (‘Bread Pudding on steroids’ as Hemanshu describes it) and ‘Sevaiyaan’ (sweet vermicelli noodles), all ready to tempt as soon as prayers are over.
We scooped up a few bags of fruit and fought our way through the crowds into the courtyard of the mosque. Inside it looked like a giant Sunday School picnic – hundreds of family groups had laid out tablecloths; women were busy cutting up fruit while children ran around excitedly and the men pushed towards the prayer-hall for ‘namaaz’ .
We laid out our comparatively meagre fare and embarked on a heated debate on what exactly these are. Last week, when I saw them in Chitli Qabar, I posted excitedly on the glut of ‘pumpkins’ I’d found, only to be informed almost immediately that they were in fact ‘Kharbooza’ or musk melons. Apparently not. While Hemanshu stuck to his Kharbooza line, others weighed in with ‘Kachri’, a type of gourd and ‘Phut’, a type of cucumber. I decided that although it was a matter that needed serious consideration, unless I wanted to miss the Iftar moment completely, it was one for another day.
The signal to eat is two rather alarming cannon-fire sounds, followed by an intense silence as water is drunk and food eaten for the first time in 12 hours. The fast is traditionally broken with a date followed by a whole array of fruits and specially-prepared food. We were still too busy debating our fruit to actually eat it so we decided to make our way out just before the end of prayers, to avoid getting caught in the stampede.
Peckish – none of us could claim to have been fasting – we headed down into the bazaar. Apologies for this picture – which demonstrates why the photography course I’m starting tomorrow is long overdue – but I hope you can get a little of the festive atmosphere in Matia Mahal. Some of our group were Old Delhi first-timers and a little wary of plunging straight into street food so we decided on Al-Jawahar restaurant. We ordered a mountain of kebabs and ‘Raan’ which were, respectively, OK and tough. We had Changazi and Chicken Kalimirch but the star of the meal, again, was the Mutton Stew with piles of Tandoori Roti to mop it up.
We asked for some stew to be packed for long-suffering husbands at home and headed back to the Metro, some of us wondering if a Monday fast might be in order, others wondering if Google would have a definitive answer to that fruit mystery.