A few years ago, I approached my desk after a morning meeting and was greeted by giant glossy color images of donuts, burgers, ice cream, and french fries plastered on the wall of my cubicle.
This was my then-boss's charming way of helping me ring in in the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.
I guess you'd have to know her personality and sense of humor -- "quirky" doesn't begin to describe it -- but while some of my colleagues were furious on my behalf and threatened to report her to HR, I was mostly unfazed.
Because if she had really wanted to make me suffer, she would have posted eight-by-seven pictures of kheema samosas instead.
Ramadan is a time of reflection, prayer, charity, and spiritual renewal. While all of those are important and all, for me it's also the time of post-sunset kheema samosa gorge-fests. I fancy myself a connoisseur of the ground-meat-stuffed pastries that are an iftar (the fast-breaking meal) staple in most South Asian homes, and are as characteristic of this spiritual time as matzoh is of Passover and candy corn is of Halloween. The coriander-laced beef or chicken, the occasional splash of zesty lemon juice, the refreshing mint chutney, the flaky dough that somehow balances a fine line between crispy and greasy... just a bite of the plump treat at any other time of year instantly transports me back to the feeling of succor and contentment I experience after a long day of dietary abstinence in Ramadan. If all you've ever encountered is the potato-and-peas-filled variety, I implore you to storm your nearest Indo-Pak hole-in-the-wall at once to remedy this travesty. (Unless you're a vegetarian. In which case, my sympathies.)
Since trekking four hours to Boston for my mom's kheema rolls is hardly always feasible during such an exhausting month, I make do with the offerings in the tri-state area. Last week I showed up at my brother's place in Hoboken an hour before iftar with but one request, only to be informed upon my arrival that there was a pound of raw ground beef and pastry dough thawed and waiting for me to whip them up myself -- which I promptly did. At my friend Asma's house in Nanuet last Friday, I downed 10. The next day I inhaled five, even though I was wary of the health-conscious "baked" variety my host that evening had on offer. Some years I hop the Metro-North to Connecticut to indulge in my friend Sobia's mom's epicurean exploits; this Wednesday, I've invited myself over to a good friend's home in Brooklyn where I aspire to down at least 15, in between bites of Shameema Aunty's divine biryani, haleem, and kababs.
When I'm not whiling away the days fantasizing about kheema samosas, finding innovative ways of masking Ramadan breath, patiently responding to well-intentioned but repetitive queries (no, not even water!), and finding detours to avoid the massive platters of free cupcakes and pizza that have a habit of magically materializing at the office this month, I really do make time for prayer and introspection. But let's be honest, when you spend 16 hours a day in a delirious state of prandial deprivation, your cravings rival those of a pregnant woman. Sweet Tarts, Lays potato chips, and ranch dip, all together? Drool! Kheema samosas are perhaps the most normal item I develop a hankering for.
So if you're looking for me during iftar, I'm likely hovering by the samosa tray, encouraging everyone else to try the pakoras, fruit chaat, or haleem instead. And if you're hell-bent on encroaching my samosa territory, might I suggest you try the potato ones? I hear they're delightful.
This essay appeared in the Huffington Post yesterday.