This is the final week of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during the daylight hours. What does a Pakistani restaurant do during the fast?
“Oh, we stay open for lunch during Ramadan,” says Sajjad Prenjee, the chef and owner of Asian Kitchen in Culver City. “We don’t cater exclusively to Muslims.
“Then at 3:30 or so we close for dinner prep, and we start serving dinner at sundown. In addition to the regular menu we have a buffet. Usually we don’t have a buffet at dinner, but, during Ramadan, people are pretty hungry, they want to get something right away.”
Asian Kitchen, one of the Southland’s relatively few Pakistani restaurants, serves a neighborhood with a substantial Pakistani or Indian Muslim population. Several other Pakistani businesses cluster near the corner of Venice Boulevard and Motor Avenue.
Ramadan ends as of sundown Friday, inaugurating the holiday known as Id-ul-Fitr. Pakistani and Indian Muslims will break the fast by eating a date or some salt, followed by dinner. In the morning they’ll attend prayers at a mosque, have lunch at home and then go out for dinner.
“They visit with family and friends,” says Prenjee. “This goes on for three days.” Among the traditional foods of Id-ul-Fitr are biryani (pilaf mixed with meat and various garnishes) and halwa (sweetmeats).
“Lots of halwas,” says Prenjee. “You’ll see desserts and cakes everywhere. We send cakes to every house.” The old tradition was to send around traditional Indian sweets such as rasmalai, gulab jamun and jelebi. “But the tradition has changed,” says Prenjee. “Now many people send [European-type] cakes, because they’re more convenient for that.”
At home, the classic Id-ul-Fitr dish is shir khurma, a sort of pudding made from thickened milk and seviyan, a very fine vermicelli that you can buy in Indian markets, usually ready-toasted for use in this dish. An ordinary seviyan pudding is eaten year-round, but shir khurma is richer, made with more nuts and other ingredients such as dried fruits and usually given a golden glow by adding saffron.
This is the dish served after returning from prayers on Id-ul-Fitr and to guests throughout the holiday. It is a somewhat liquid cousin to rice pudding, tasting of concentrated milk and roses. Many versions include dried fruit (“khurma” means date), but Prenjee’s does not, making for a restrained and elegant dish dominated by the flavor of almonds, pistachios and saffron.