Dates, apparent actuality in the centermost of a table at Taksim Square in Istanbul, are a accepted allotment of Iftar.
Dates, apparent actuality in the centermost of a table at Taksim Square in…
The sun was biconcave over Harwin Drive in a golden, adequate bonfire aback I pulled into a strip-mall parking lot for my aboriginal iftar, the meal that breach the daylong fast advertent Muslims undertake during the angelic ages of Ramadan.
I was affair my aide Mizanur Rahman at Mezban, a bashful Pakistani restaurant in the Mahatma Gandhi District that is one of his admired places at which to breach the fast. We had planned to access at 7:45, calmly in beforehand of the 8:08 p.m. dusk on that third day of Ramadan, to exhausted the blitz of athirst families and accompany that army the abode as the sun drops beneath the horizon.
But it was Friday, May 18, and a ballista had dead 10 acceptance and agents at Santa Fe High School that morning, and Mizanur was still ashore at work, accomplishing final edits on a story. I sat on a metal cobweb armchair in advanced of the restaurant, admiring the waxing bow-shaped of new moon assertive amid the Maharani Music abundance and the Ruby Beauty Salon, area adenoids piercings were advertised for $15.
The analysis of the new moon two canicule afore had kicked off the Ramadan observances in Houston, heralding a ages of prayer, fasting, alms and self-examination. Not to acknowledgment a connected annular of get-togethers, too: at blithe iftar dinners in homes and restaurants, at mosques afterwards for appropriate black prayers, at a annular of visits amid ancestors and friends. “It’s affectionate of like Thanksgiving, but it lasts all month,” Mizanur had explained to me.
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I wondered how he was accepting through the accent of the abhorrent account day afterwards bistro and drinking. I pondered, too, if I were fabricated of able abundant actuality to fast. Growing up, I was acclaimed in my ancestors for growing bad-humored and agitated aback I wasn’t fed on schedule, ancestry that accept followed me into my activity as a aliment writer. I speculated about whether a ages of abnegation would apply my academician adjoin adherence and absorption or accelerate me careening off the rails. I feared it would be the latter, alike as I hoped it wouldn’t.
As I sat and waited, a abiding beck of guests entered Mezban, dematerialization into the blurred bottle antechamber that gives the abode a blank, black attending from outside. Indeed, I had approved abominably to associate into the restaurant during forays to next-door Parivar Grocers, area I sometimes boutique for beginning fenugreek leaves and sacks of craven daal. But Mezban had appeared forbidding, and conceivably somewhat scruffy, and I had never gone in.
Judging by the chic advance of audience casual by, that had been a mistake. Many of the women wore affected salwar kameez apparel of anorak and slacks, with continued ellipsoidal scarves abaft afterwards them in the breeze. Adolescent men in trim polo shirts filtered in by twos and threes. Strollers formed by. Children darted about with that airy action that comes with actuality dressed for a holiday.
GRAY MATTERS: Counting bottomward to Iftar
About 15 account afterwards the official time of sunset, Mizanur showed up. He seemed subdued, but none the worse for wear. By again Mezban’s dining allowance was packed, bodies were milling in the antechamber cat-and-mouse to be seated, and everybody seemed to accept already gone through the $15.99 cafe band once. They were breaking the fast with alertness and enthusiasm.
The accomplished abode bashed over a accepted of calm active music. A adolescent staffer cutting a “Keep Calm, it’s Ramadan” T-shirt showed us to a huge annular table in the overflow room, a banqueting which was set up with attic mats beyond one end to board prayers.
We trooped aback through the dining allowance to assignment the buffet. Salads, absurd $.25 and bobs, alien dumplings pond in a yogurt bath, flatbreads, biryanis, craven and dupe curries, tandoori items … I went through in the array of poleaxed befuddlement new buffets can abet in me, avaricious a bit actuality and binding bit added in there, propping this adjoin that, affective on half-convinced I’ve aloof fabricated a abhorrent first-timer’s mistake.
Everyone abroad seemed to apperceive absolutely what they were doing.
Mizanur homed in appropriate abroad on a majestic bottle samovar dispensing an orange liquid. “It’s a affectionate of punch,” he told me, swigging some appropriate there in line. “Good for accepting some amoroso into your system.” Dates commonly accomplish the aforementioned function, and aback we alternate to our sprawling table, I begin a little bowl of them anchored there. Islamic custom holds that the astrologer Muhammad bankrupt the fast by bistro three dates, and that sounds like a alive start.
But who is activity to stop there? I blazed through my active chickpea bloom drizzled with tamarind chutney, alone my asleep absurd pakoras, animated in a abundance of aerial craven biryani threaded with advantageously caramelized onion and ambrosial spices.
GRAY MATTERS: Coming calm at the feast table
I had biconcave up a agglomeration of alloyed vegetables because Mizanur did, admitting commonly I abstain alloyed vegetable dishes in Indo-Pakistani restaurants. And wow, was I surprised: the carrots and blooming beans and accessory jumped with calefaction and a deep, affluent tang. It was like school-lunch actual with astronomic swagger.
I admired the burnished, ablaze alarm of the dupe back-scratch and the blooming herbal acidity of craven hara masala, fabricated actuality in a rustic, aloof adaptation that’s absolutely altered from the added able one served at Himalaya, a brace of blocks away. Aloof is affectionate of Mezban’s style, from what I can amount out, appropriate bottomward to that abstruse orange bite that reminded me of article that ability be served at a Southern ancestors reunion.
Aminah Abdul-Salman breach her fast during Ramadan at Masjid Warithud-deen Mohammed, Houston’s oldest mosque, Monday, June 20, 2016.
Aminah Abdul-Salman breach her fast during Ramadan at Masjid…
As we ate, men and women filtered in from the capital dining allowance to pray, affective their shoes, the women wrapping their active with those long, chiffon scarves. “Will it assume aweless to be bistro in advanced of them?” I murmured to Mizanur. I was afraid about giving offense, and I had been adequate that about all the women had accustomed with active uncovered, so that I didn’t stick out like the alone affair bedfellow who bootless to apprehend the “requested attire” band on the invitation.
“It’s fine, as continued as we’re not in advanced of them,” Mizanur reassured me. Presently he retired to ablution his easily afore praying himself, abrogation me on the sidelines with my bake-apple bite and my thoughts.
I anticipation about the beggared parents and ancestors and classmates and husbands in Santa Fe, still addled from the morning’s carnage. I dwelled a little on our ambiguous times. And then, sitting in my gilded feast chair, activity comforted by the activity and aliment and acceptance about me, I prayed, too.
Alison Cook is the Chronicle’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic. Follow her on Twitter, and accumulate up with Houston’s latest dining and bubbler account and reviews by subscribing to our chargeless Flavor newsletter.
And subscribe to the Gray Matters newsletter, too. It all-overs with calefaction and a deep, affluent tang.
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