Mumbai’s Ramzan Bazaar — with 90 per cent non-vegetarian offerings — attracts around 40,000 people daily, the number zooms up to 100,000 on weekends
Mumbai: After an unprecedented ‘shutdown’ for two consecutive years (2020-2021) due to the Covid-induced restrictions, Mumbai’s famed Ramzan food market in and around Mohammed Ali Road is all ready to buzz just like it did before in its around 250-year-old history.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has lifted all the pandemic related curbs from this month, and the annual food market is set to manifest itself in full glory at Mohammed Ali Road, Minara Masjid, Bhendi Bazaar, and other bylanes, to whip up the favourite goodies for the foodies, from the first day of the holy Ramadan month of fasting on Sunday.
Local Congress MLA Amin Patel is the moving spirit behind the ‘revival’ of the food bazaar that is ‘house-full’ from sunset to sunrise, making it a memorable, adventurous culinary night-out for the thousands of patrons from Mumbai, other states and even foreigners for the entire month.
“This week, I met all the stakeholders, requested for strict hygiene and cleanliness, physical distancing, regular sanitising and twice day-time fogging of the entire region, adequate fire-safety norms and uninterrupted power supply… All the concerned departments will fully cooperate,” Patel told IANS.
For the past two Ramzans, the market was closed and deserted, the centuries old glitter and lights were missing as people crouched indoors during the first and second waves of the pandemic, unwilling to take chances.
“We are ready to roll out the red carpet for our beloved patrons and food-lovers whose presence we missed the past two years,” said Abdullah Rehman Khan, owner of the decades-old landmark ‘Mashaallah Cuisine’, which nestles under the shadow of the 25-decade-old Minara Masjid, where the trend started in a small way.
Khan reveals a bonus this time as many unheard and untasted varieties will be introduced for the vegetarians, non-vegetarians, sweet-lovers and snackers, with the specialised ‘Khansamas’ (traditional Master Chefs) wracking their creative skills to dish out brand new mouth-watering savory delights.
Electronics engineer Mohsin Shaikh — who runs the 100-year old family business, ‘Minara Paan Shop’ — is optimistic that the Ramzan food market reopening will signal the beginning of good days again for lakhs of families who depend on it for survival.
“There will be the usual select, enticing, aromatic 400-plus non-vegetarian items, over 100 assorted desserts and beverages, employing more than 5,000 people, many more indirectly, all supporting their families back home, helping churn the economy in these tough times,” said Shaikh, whose outlet is renowned for the 50-plus ‘tobacco-free’ yummy paan concoctions.
Veteran Urdu scribe Aejaz A. Ansari, a resident of Nagpada, said the Ramzan market’s history is intertwined with the awe-inspiring Minara Masjid, where it started, initially with just a handful of tiny food stalls that gradually mushroomed over the decades and centuries.
“In the past six-seven decades, it acquired a cult-status for its sheer food variety, the unique preparation styles, unmatched taste, attracting food-buffs from all over India and abroad,” said Ansari, charting out his own family ‘iftaar’ menu for the entire holy month.
Khan said certain dishes are specially prepared or available here only during Ramzan, many of which are ‘secret family recipes’ handed down from generations which people flock to savour.
Around 25 per cent of the crowd are Muslims, 60 per cent non-Muslims and the rest are tourists/foreigners.
“The main market spawns around one km on each side of Minara Masjid, the rest is a spill-over that emerges to cater to massive Ramzan demand. There are around 100-plus food stalls in the main market, and the rest another 400-odd sellers. It’s a veritable ‘national integration through food’ celebration during Ramzan,” Khan said.
“The overall theme is lip-smacking Mughlai cuisine, and we have specialised ‘visiting’ biryani chefs from Lucknow, nihari doyens of Delhi, tawa food experts from Bahraich (UP), gravy masters, and more such food exponents,” said Javed Makhdum of Bhopal, one such migratory maestro of non-veg food mixes.
The food market — with 90 per cent non-vegetarian offerings — attracts around 40,000 people daily, the number zooms up to 100,000 on weekends, and the month closes with a stupendous 1.50 million hungry but satisfied customers in that swarming district.
“Usually, each person spends around Rs 500-800 for a hearty meal, so calculate the massive business generated here. Thousands of families work only in the Ramzan month and comfortably survive the remaining 11 months. That’s due to the ‘barkat’ (benevolence) of the Minara Masjid,” Khan said.
Given the current all-round inflationary trend, rising costs of all inputs, including manpower, most outlet-keepers, including Makhdum, admit that there will be “at least a 50-60 per cent” hike in the prices, but are confident that the tummy will rule over the pockets of the patrons.
Die-hard food connoisseurs, some drive down from neighbouring states and others fly down from places like even Delhi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Goa and Hyderabad, besides the locals, return home pleased, with tasty and tall tales of their wild nights of gluttony here, said Ansari.
Regular celebs here include Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan, Suniel Shetty, Katrina Kaif, Mahesh Bhatt, Alia Bhatt, Ayesha Takiya-Azmi, Remo D’Souza, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
But local restaurateurs whisper how they don’t really prefer to entertain these celeb entertainers who “disrupt the whole market ambience with their brief starry appearances”, so now many bigwigs prefer to pick up parcels quietly in their dark-tinted glass vehicles, depart without fan-fare to enjoy their delicious fare elsewhere.
At times, open-mouthed catering college students troop here on ‘field assignments’ or frowning professional chefs of top hotels/restaurants quietly visit, their critical eyes scouring the area as the hungry minions dare to devour streetside delicacies without a care.
The food bazar has spawned many clones in Mumbai and other cities, but people like Khan swear that the ‘ronak’ (splendour) of the Mohammed Ali Road market surpasses that of the Ramzan mega-food congregations in Istanbul, Dubai, Cairo, Jakarta or Casablanca…!
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