From left: Isra Ali, Sabiha Jameel, Mohammad Ali, Rayyan Ali, Raed Ali, Najya Ali and Saulat Ali during iftar. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: At the home of the Mohammad Ali in Mirdif, Ramadan is an occasion when family and friends get together to spend quality time and revive the richest traditions of the Pakistani culture.

Simplicity and togetherness is what make up the family’s iftar table, along with the excitement of having guests joining them to try some of their country’s most popular dishes.

Mohammad Ali, a father of four children from Islamabad, finds it a blessing to have his mother staying with him in the UAE and be around her grandchildren to teach them some of the holy month’s important customs.

“Ramadan has always been a month of togetherness. Both of my brothers and their wives live in different areas in the city, but during this month we try to meet as much as we can. Normally, my children also don’t see me because of the timings. This is the only time in the whole year we get to sit together to talk, read and do different things,” said Ali, 44, a body language trainer and life and career coach.

As his wife Saulat Ali prepares different authentic Pakistani dishes in the kitchen, his two elder daughters Najya Ali, 16 and Isra Ali, 12, check on their mother to see how they can help her with getting the food ready.

“In our culture, when people are invited over to iftar they will never refuse the invitation, and when you are in a home where your mother is staying with you, one dish is never enough. This old school of thought is very much prevalent in our home,” Ali said.

The most admired dish in the Pakistani cuisine during Ramadan is pakora, a fritter made up of gram flour, potatoes and other vegetables. Pakora and the fruit chat, a dish consisting of various kinds of fruits cut in small pieces and soaked in orange juice or syrup, are his children’s favourite and a must on the iftar table.

“Pakora is the most common dish for iftar in our country, Another thing we do during Ramadan is to share iftar with our neighbours or labourers working in our area,” said Ali while his seven-year-old son Rayyan was sitting beside him.

Sabiha Jameel, Ali’s mother, who has been living in the UAE for more than 20 years, said she is happy that the traditions are being followed in her home. She is also happy that most of the iftar gatherings hosted by the Pakistani families are held at homes and not at hotels.

“During Ramadan, I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and reciting the Quran. I like to teach them how to be punctual in their prayers and to help their mother in preparing iftar meals. We are happy that there is a mosque next to our house and the children make it a point to go there to offer their prayers,” said Jameel.

Close to Iftar time, Najya and Isra began to lay the food on the table. Chicken samosas and the pakoras were among the first dishes to be placed on the table. The main dishes that followed were the chicken qorma, a gravy dish eaten with flat bread, dahi vada and meatballs in yoghurt sauce. The popular Ramadan drink, rose-flavoured milk, and chilled juices were also on the iftar table.

“Pakistanis are very fond of traditional food,” said Ali. “We love to eat the traditional dishes from our area but it is a bit difficult to develop taste of these dishes in our children.”

“The main reason for children not developing taste for the traditional dishes is their liking for fast food and burgers,” said Jameel smilingly.

As the family waited for Jameel’s other son and his wife to arrive, Saulat, Ali’s wife sat down to catch a breath before it was time for Adhan. “Preparing for iftar takes time and its needs good planning. Of course I do most of the work, but I try to involve the children in preparing iftar meals as it is a learning process for them,” said Saulat

She said the family members end their fast with a date, and after taking a bit of main dish rush to offer prayers.

Ali’s eldest son, Raed, 12, goes to the nearby mosque daily to help people in serving iftar there and cleaning up the mosque thereafter.

“All of us are united to keep our traditions alive,” said Jameel.

Recipes

Chicken qorma

Ingredients: Fresh chicken, oil, onion, ginger garlic paste, cumin seeds, tomato paste, masala, cinnamon stick, yoghurt, red-chili powder, salt.

Preparation: Heat up oil in a cooking pan and fry onion until golden brown. Blend onion together with yoghurt. Keep the paste aside. Fry the chicken in the same oil until it changes the colour. Add ginger garlic paste, cumin seeds and stir until aroma arises. Now add onion paste, red chili powder, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, masala and salt. Cover and cook until chicken gets tender. Add water and cook further to make thick gravy.

Pakora

Ingredients: Gram flour, red chili powder, salt, cumin seeds, water and various vegetables.

Preparation: Add water, red chilli powder, salt and cumin seeds to gram flour and prepare a batter. Leave the batter to settle for 30-40 minutes. Dip either eggplants, potatoes, onions or cabbage in the batter and deep fry.