The spicy aroma of kebabs and curries, bright, colourful shops and stalls and crowds of happy people – many of whom indulge in shopping and feasting all night – bring the walled city in the Indian capital to life every night during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As the sun sets, the faithful break their day-long fast and set out with families and friends to the nearby markets of Jama Masjid in search of food as well as clothes, footwear, jewellery and accessories to be worn on the Eid (July 29) that marks the end of the month- long fasting.
According to shopkeepers, thanks to a wide variety of skullcaps available this year, they are selling like hot cakes.
“Different designs and vivid colours are driving the sales of the skullcaps, which are the most popular product this season,” Zahid Ahmad of ZS Cap House opposite Gate No. 1 of Jama Masjid, told IANS.
Though the shops in the market sell skullcaps all year round, the stock during Ramadan is always different and exclusive.
“During the festival, extra efforts are made to provide something different to the customer; like this year, caps made of velvet and imported from Bangladesh – called *turki topis – are quite popular and are available for Rs.50 (85 cents) a piece,” he said.
“Also in demand is the Asian cap which is made in Mumbai and sells for anything between Rs.25 and Rs. 50.”
In addition to the skull caps, shopkeepers selling ‘ittar’, which is a natural perfume made by blending herbs and flowers, are also doing brisk business.
“Fragrances like sandalwood, jasmine, rose, rajnigandha and gulab are selling quite well,” said Mukul Gandhi, owner of an ‘ittar’ shop in Chandni Chowk’s Dariba Kalan.
However, the highlight of the festival remains food and not just the locals but Delhiites from all over the city throng the area to get a taste of the elaborate platter on offer – leaving them spoilt for choice.
Shops and stalls with huge woks and tandoors dish out mouth-watering items like mutton nahari, korma, keema naans, biryani, kebabs and the like that make you drool for more while desserts like rabri-faluda, paneer jalebi and meetha samosa further encourage the glutton inside you.
Though, Nahari – a stew of slow cooked meat with light spices — is perhaps the favourite dish during the season, especially eaten by those fasting, as the day’s first meal before dawn.
“It provides enough protein to help us go on all day till evening when we have our second meal and break the fast,” said Mansoor Alam, a shopkeeper in Meena Bazar, adding that the dish is eaten with round bread called ‘khameeri roti’.
Among other favourites are khajla (pancakes) and pheni (vermicelli), which are to be eaten with milk and are especially prepared during the Ramadan month.
“Khajla is soaked in milk for a few hours before consumption while pheni is shallow fried and milk and sugar are added,” said Dilawar, a worker at the popular Kallan Sweets.
“Pheni and khajla are Ramzan ka tohfa (gift of Ramadan) and are liked by all,” said Ifzur Rehman, a 65-year-old pheni kiosk owner
Apart from cooked meals, dry fruits like dates, pistachios and nuts are also eaten during the month.