Context: Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Healthy adult Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset for thirty days, and it is a time of greater spirituality, awareness, charity, and family. The informant is a Pakistani Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia, England, and Pakistan, and married and settled in Southern California. Here she relates a recipe for a staple of the Iftar (fast-breaking meal) table in her household, fruit chaat.
“It’s…well, ‘chaat‘, the word ‘chaat‘, it just means like a…like a little snack, and there are all sorts of chaat, so like you can have spicy chaat or dahi [yogurt] chaat…so anyway, in our house, that was the one thing we always had to have. Like it was dates, scunj’veen [homemade limeade], pakore [spicy batter-fried potatoes], and fruit chaat. Sometimes my dad would try to introduce new things into the mix, like samose…and they were always left at the end of it, like orphans. Somehow over those thirty days we never got tired off the same menu. And we still don’t.
The best fruit chaat has to have pomegranate seeds in it and amrood [guava]. ”
Though the end product may vary considerably depending on what fruits are available/in season, a person’s personal preferences, etc., the basic recipe is as follows:
1 large apple, 2 bananas, 1 large pear, 1 large peach/nectarine, 1/2 cup guava, all sliced; 1 cup red grapes, halved; 1/2 cup pomegranate; enough orange juice to “make the fruit float”; and sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Combine in a bowl. Serve chilled.
Analysis: The informant says the main reason this dish was/is such a favorite is because it is “refreshing”; after a a long, sometimes hot day, the sugar in the fruit would boost a fasting person’s blood sugar and put them in a sweeter mood. The informant says her family almost never ate dinner, just iftaar, so having a good variety of healthy food at the table was important since they would eat so little the whole day.
The informant further relates that because certain fruits, like pomegranates and guavas, are seasonal. expensive, or both, she has taken to incorporating other fruit occasionally: strawberries, oranges, pineapple, blueberries, etc., depending on availability. I think this shows the adaptability of this simple dish: it started out as a bare-bones dish with the most basic, most common and inexpensive fruit included, and then as she found that her native fruits were harder to come by, she incorporated more “Western” fruit that certainly would not have been available in her native Pakistan at the time she was growing up. And yet it still serves the same purpose: to lighten one’s mood and restore “sugar” levels in the body after a long day without food or water. And the informant insists that she never makes or serves it outside the holy month of Ramadan, even though, since the Islamic calendar is lunar, the time of the month changes every year and what fruits are available each year also changes.