CHENNAI: Among the various religious practices followed during Ramzan, iftar always has a special place. At sunset, families sit together to break the fast with a meal called iftar. Each family has its own traditional practice to break the fast. Umaima Hussain Basuwala’s family is one such. A Bohra Muslim, born and raised in Kolkatta, Umaima lives with her husband and two children in her traditional 50-year-old house in the city.
Umaima, who works as an art and crafts teacher, breaks her fast after the azaan (the evening prayer call), with dates (kharak), a fruit, some biscuits and a cup of hot tea. During dinner, the whole family eats from a thaal that comprises a sweet, sabzi, rice or pulao, roti and a gravy vegtable. “The whole family eats from the same thaal (a big plate) placed on a tarana (short table) so that the food is reachable at a certain height. This signifies that a family comes together only during dinner. Everybody should eat the same meal in equal quantities. This practice helps nourish the bonding and prevents careless wastage of food,” she explains.
At 3.30 am, she has lachcha (vermicelli) along with milk. This dish is considered to be soothing and warm for the stomach to begin the next cycle of fasting. They also have a drink called gol paani, which is made by soaking jaggery and squeezing lemon. All these fluids are said to nourish the stomach and improve digestion. Among the Bohra community, it is considered auspicious to have a pinch of khak-e-shif, a variety of holy sand on empty stomach before fasting starts. A pinch of salt is considered a fair replacement. “As a community, we are particular about having a health-conscious meal. It must have a balanced proportion of all nutrients. Even as a kid, nothing was forced on me. As I grew up, I learned about Islam, the science behind all these practices and it made sense to me eventually,” says Umaima.
Umaima grew up in a household where recipes were passed on like family secrets. She owes her kitchen lessons to her sister-in-law and mother-in-law. “My mother passed on the art to my bhabhi and she helped me out. Likewise, after marriage I learned most of it from my mother-in-law. There would be slight differences in measurements and taste but I eventually got used to the taste,” she says. Terwale or dahi vada was one of her earliest experiments at the age of eight. She has come a long way with about 25 years of experience. “Growing up in large families is special.
You might have unexpected guests most of the time. There are times when I have cribbed but my husband has been a huge support. He always treats his guests equal to god,” she says. Umaima adds that during her childhood, she loved her father’s cooking. “He had a special talent for identifying ingredients that went into every dish. When he goes to restaurants, he immediately picks up the method and tries it out at home for us. His preparation of chilli chicken in the authentic Chinese style was one of his best,” says Umaima, who learned to make desserts from her daughter Fatema, who is an expert at it.
Each day in the kitchen is a new experience. As much as her children appreciate her cooking there are days when she receives criticism. “Recently I was explaining to my daughter-in-law about how to close the lid of a mixie jar. But I ended up splashing the paste all over me. Kitchen mishaps are quite common so it’s better to laugh it out and move on,” she says. Umaima has a set of kitchen room practices. Every day begins with a prayer.
Slippers are not worn while cooking and especially while kneading the dough. Head is covered with a dupatta. And, listening to songs is something she avoids while cooking. “Every activity has a purpose. Water has to be consumed while remaining seated. Milk must be consumed while standing. We fail to follow some of the simplest of things that actually have a meaning behind it. Cooking is science,” she shares.