Our Armchair Travel series takes us to Mumbai, India where our travelling foodie, Maryam B Rumaney tells us about her Eid experience in what is for many South Africans, our motherland.
“Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert
India has been a destination that I have visited regularly. I have been to India five times and on average, I have stayed for five weeks at a time. These lengthy trips have allowed for the exploration of the country, and yet there is just so much more to see. On every trip I kept reminding myself to return because the landscape and experiences are so vast, and I have merely touched a tiny portion of this sub-continent. India is an absolute experience for the senses, from the food to the bustling streets and the most hospitable people you will ever meet.
All four my grandparents were from India. My parents are first-generation South Africans, thus having strong links to the family in the ‘homeland’. This left us in a special position when we travelled to India. Not only were we able to explore the country as tourists, but we also got to experience local life and culture. I have had the privilege of being invited into the homes of many local families, which has truly been of my most enriching travel experiences to date.
On one specific trip I ended up in India around the time of Eid-ul-Adha. I spent this Eid with mother’s sister and her family who lived in the South of Mumbai, in an area called Nagpada, at the time. This is a part of Mumbai that is alive 24/7, 365 days a year. There are narrow alleyways that line the streets, cars and pedestrians everywhere in their masses and you get a constant smell of food. It is a city that never sleeps. For anyone wanting good quality sleep, this was not the place to be. However, as a teenager, I was absolutely taken in by this scenario, something so foreign to what I was accustomed to back home.
This particular neighbourhood was predominately Muslim, which meant that Eid festivities would be seen and heard in abundance. Eid-ul-Adha is an Islamic festival that denotes the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. Muslims all over the world celebrate this festival in solidarity with the pilgrims who would have performed their pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This pilgrimage dates back to the time of Abraham. Abraham built the Kaaba, a stone cubic structure that denotes the Islamic direction of prayer. One significant part of the story of Abraham regards the dream he had to slaughter his son. God came into his dream and told him that his son Ishmael should be sacrificed. In obedience to the Divine Order, Abraham told his son about his dream and his son agreed to be slaughtered. As Ishmael found himself on the slaughter block, and as his father raised his vessel to cut, God replaced Ishmael with a ram. From then on, Muslims slaughter a sheep, goat, cow or camel on Eid-ul-Adha. The meat is then divided into three parts, one part for charity, the second for the family and the third part can be kept.
Eid in India thus begins with several calls to prayer sounding across the neighbourhood. It starts with the call to the early morning prayer. This is followed by the Eid prayer which is read about 30 minutes after sunrise. In India, only men are allowed to pray in mosques, and hence the women remain home preparing a traditional breakfast. An Eid speciality, typical of Kokni people (our culture, which stems from the language that was spoken in the village), is Sana. This is a steamed, sweet rice and coconut cake that is an absolute hit. I grew up with this tradition, as my mum continues this Eid practice here in South Africa.
Sanna Recipe: The magic of Sanna heralds Eid
After Eid salah and breakfast, there is a rest period and then its lunch. During this rest period you can observe several slaughtering of goats along the road in the ‘mohallas’, as these side streets are known in this area. This was also new to me. In South Africa we have many regulations when it comes to slaughtering, and it is performed in designated areas, not in the street.
Lunch was served. It was ordered from Café Paradise, a restaurant located just below the apartment block. Goat biryani is the Eid lunch tradition. Indian biryani is by far my favourite dish, something that I am unable to cook, so I am always eager to try it when out. Biryani spices, flavours and aromas rank top on my list of Indian culinary experiences. Added to the taste brilliance is the tenderness of the goat meat, something not widely available in South Africa. Goat meat has many health benefits too, which adds to the guilt-free indulgence. Indian biryanis are rich in flavour due to the high quality of spices used, often hand-roasted and ground. Butter is used, lots of sweet fried onion, generous helpings of garlic and coriander in abundance. I like how the rice is coloured and served with yoghurt. The yoghurt is mixed with chili, garlic and a bit of salt. The biryani also had a generous helping of potato (back when I could eat this vegetable). Ah, and not forgetting the Indian sweetmeats known as ‘mithai’, that gets served at teatime. This is a selection of barfi (Indian fudge) and halwa, to name a few. Mithai shops can be found on every corner in Mumbai, and are a high-calorie indulgence in every way.
Eid is different, in various parts of the world. In Cape Town, Eid comes with the tradition of local foods, invites for meals at various family members and the afternoons are spent visiting our nearest and dearest. In India, after lunch a siesta was in order, and the day passes by calmly, amid Mumbai’s hustle and bustle.
Since Eid-ul-Adha lasts for three days, the remaining two days found me exploring the South of Mumbai with my aunt by foot. From walks down Mohammed Ali road, to shopping in Crawford market and trips to Royal Mithai shop. I experienced more of the city which was abuzz with vibrancy. India will always be etched in my memory as a special destination, filled with experiences off the beaten track.
Best wishes for the remainder of Ramadan,
Leave a comment if you’re enjoying our travel posts. Look out for our next armchair travel post where Maryam tells us about her Eid in India.
By Maryam Bibi Rumaney
Maryam is a molecular scientist by profession with a passion for writing. She currently works as a freelance consultant offering laboratory advisory, scientific editing, and English language services. She loves to travel and is always looking for the next adventure. Connect with her at http://www.mbrumaney.co/