Ramadan Mubarak! It‘s always this time of year that I am prompted to post at least once, not surprisingly since the blog is travel and food oriented, and during the Muslim month of fasting, one’s mind tends to turn to food… and also not surprisingly, if one has grown up in Trinidad, fried foods, specifically those traditional so-called “Indian delicacies”* are the most prevalent of those dreams!
In Trinidad (and in Guyana, I know, although the range of fried goodies doesn’t match my recollection of T&T), when you go to the masjid to break your fast, there are certain expected Iftar foods. Dates and water of course, since that is the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s). Although, when I was very young, water didn’t feature as much as the stretched-to-sugary-water Trinidad tinned juice…water was available from the stand pipes in the wudu area if you were picky… An iftar plate, or table (if the food is set out for communal-style eating) would also contain a teaspoon size mound of finely grated ginger. The ginger is not pictured above, but believe me, it could look very like that grated mango chutney…causing frequent disappointment to those who rushed in before checking. The ginger is to aid in the wind or gas reduction as you eat after a day of fasting, so you are supposed to eat the ginger first (well, after the date or water). There’ll be a piece of fruit on the plate – above there are some grapes and a piece of apple, but local fruits such as bananas and watermelon are also popular.
Also not pictured on this plate, but you can see it here (also thanks Lilandra, who has many many Iftar photos), would be a legume…such as channa or black eye peas googni (boil and fried) or curry channa. These things go really well with chutney, or a la doubles, stuffed into the fried goodies.
But of course, the MAIN item, is the particular morsel of fried goodness on the plate. Lilandra’s plate shows an accra and a saheena, but the possibilities for those fried delicacies are far more. As the majority of Trini Muslims are of Indian descent, there are certain traditions that developed out of the Indian community that are fully part of all of our Ramadan traditions. And the Indian delicacies which you might enjoy to break fast include aloo pies, pholourie, kachourie, roll-up saheena, baigani, if you’re lucky, samosas or even goolgoola (a sweet fritter made with bananas). For the savoury items, chutney is essential. If you are doing communal or potluck Iftar, you might be lucky to get a variety of chutneys – tamarind, mango, pommecythere, or even cucumber – on one plate. Chutney here is not the stewed fruit kind of chutney my non-Trini readers might think of. Chutney to a Trini (similar to sour to a Guyanese) is fruit-based yes, but intended to be a savoury, spicy condiment served with these various savoury fritters.**
Now, technically Iftar (or Aftari in Urdu) refers to whatever you eat to break the fast and could include dinner (very often, when on my own, I go straight to dinner), but the concept of Iftar in T&T is popularly used just to refer to those small items you eat at the point of breaking your fast, when the Adhan (call to prayer) is made. Then we go to pray the sunset prayer (Maghrib), and then AFTER that is dinner. So if you are invited to an Iftar, remember to ask if it is Iftar AND Dinner, just to be safe
For my first Iftar this Ramadan, I was traveling. And although I broke my fast on time with some tea, it took a while to get to a meal. And all during that time I dreamed of a typical Iftar, and craved something fried and delicious. My options were limited and I ended up with calamari. Not traditional, certainly, but fried, crispy and delicious. Did it satisfy the Iftar-craving? No. Mostly because it was served with some kind of lemony mayo which in no way resembled a chutney. I should have asked for pepper sauce. Lesson learned – the craving is for fried goodness AND chutney
*Flyers and posters for bazaars and other events in T&T will proclaim somewhere “Indian delicacies” as an enticement, promising hot and crispy phoulouries, baiganis, doubles, aloo pies etc.
** This might need its own post…