I’m going to be that person who says “my BFF in middle school was muslim” – but this post isn’t about extrapolating one person to a culture. It is, naturally, about food.
This friend lived in an old muslim neighborhood in Mumbai, right by a mosque in a crumbling timber building with china mosaic floors and carved cathedral ceilings, in a lane crammed with food shops that doused her home perpetually in fresh smells of kabab’s, yeasty naan, and syrupy gulab jamun. Her grandfather, Nanajaan, sat in a teakwood and wicker easy chair in the main hall, a brass spittoon by his side, his silver beard and kohl lined eyes intimidating enough to curb our giggles as we tried to sneak past without waking him as he dozed.
Every Eid, when we visited, he stopped us in our tracks and in his gravelly stern-kind voice wished us Eid Mubarak and stuck a ten rupee note in our hands as “eidee.” Naturally, we learned to appreciate the fact that Eid did not happen only once a year. Then he called to his daughters-in-law – “Make sure the children are fed.”
And fed we were. A feast of lamb biryani with apricots and almonds, beef kababs, and kofta currys so rich we had to crawl to the desserts – saffron sprinkled vermicelli pudding, nutty date cakes, and flaky fried dough dunked in every manner of sugar.
There’s a happiness in that kind of fullness, a joy in that kind of festivity, a peace in the food coma that follows. A wonderful sense of being pampered and belonging when a friend’s mother forces that last jalebi on your plate and you think you’re gong to explode, but you don’t care. You can’t in the face of that perfect crunch of a jalebi before it melts on your tongue and turns every inch of you into your tastebuds.
Anytime I hear Eid mentioned, I miss that old house, that old grandfather, my friend, her gorgeous mother. I’ve lost them to time. But the embrace of their love and the joy of sharing in their celebrations lives on untainted in my cravings for those flavors and for that unique heart-over-belly fullness.
Eid Mubarak to all who celebrate. But to all those who do and don’t, may you find yourself some biryani and vermicelli pudding. And I mean that in the most metaphorical sense.