Nightlife in Ramadan

With the advancement of culinary culture in Dhaka city, it was evident that this might give a boost to a night life, which is absent in the scenario. During the month of Ramadan, restaurants are offering delicacies, mainly targeting youth, for the sehri, the last meal before a daylong fast. Youths are grabbing this opportunity to get a taste of the elusive night life in Dhaka. Nahid Riyasad writes about the evolving cultural trend.

 

People munching on restaurant food during sehri time.

People munching on restaurant food during sehri time.

It is interesting how Ramadan has changed for the youth in recent years in Dhaka city. There was a time, not many years ago, when people would rush back to home before iftar time. Young people, students or job holders, could barely wait any longer after noon to finish the day’s work. Going home, hurriedly freshening up, waiting for azan and finally taking a sip of that homemade lemonade, that is how it pretty much went down every day of Ramadan. The gathering at iftar has always been hearty and sacred. Now people, mostly the young generation, started having iftar and sehri at restaurants, it is a sizable crowd at food courts each day. It of course goes without saying that not everyone can afford a relatively costly iftar. Even then, the practice is increasing rapidly.

Dhaka, even after being a megacity with a thriving 20 million people, lacks the night life. In the last decade or so, restaurants have been mushrooming constructing a perfect platform for such culture to flourish. Considering social fabric of Dhaka city, the young people still lack that opportunity. Here comes Ramadan, the month of fasting for the Muslims.

 Guests waiting for their food to arrive at sehri in a Dhaka restaurant.


Guests waiting for their food to arrive at sehri in a Dhaka restaurant.

The already booming restaurant culture of Dhaka is adapting, given the market and enthusiasm of the young people, a new culture, in this month-they start offering different delicacies till late night. This enables the young people to take a taste of night life as well as fulfill the need of energy to go through the next day of fasting. This new culture has a number of aspects going around it, some are positive and some are negative. Notwithstanding, this might be a new little step towards cosmopolitanisation of Dhaka.

Even a decade ago, iftar items could be found in roadside shops, prepared by seasonal vendors. Permanent establishment also offered different fritters and other iftar delicacies, all prepared and displayed outside. With the emerging popularity of the modern restaurant, now a plethora of food offers from restaurants for iftar as well as sehri can be found in social media. This is an indication that the younger generations are adapting the practice of their families according to their time and trend.

 Family members sit in a traditional iftar while waiting for the azan.


Family members sit in a traditional iftar while waiting for the azan.

Iftar is an inseparable part of Ramadan because this marks the end of fasting for that day. This is a family gathering time too. The regular tradition is that family members sit together in the evening and wait for the azan to break their fast, together. Yeasmin Jahan, a college teacher and a mother of two teenagers was reminiscing her childhood memories of iftar, ‘back in our days, we didn’t have these many restaurants and iftar was a meal that needed to be prepared at home, with loving care of the family. However, these days, my children often eat out for iftar with their friends. ‘We have to accept the changes,’ she said while adding, ‘the only outside food we had on our iftar menu in childhood was halim’.

Apparently, in the last decade or so, Dhaka’s food culture is changing drastically and complying with that change, the delicacies and tradition of the month of Ramadan is also transforming, at least for youths. As urban youths are getting accustomed to eating out, they are taking this chance to unleash their day-long hunger on some restaurant style hot cooked food. Considering the demand, restaurants are also offering late night dinner as sehri. Different offers are made with nicely presented food items to suit every taste bud, even buffets at very late hours.

Altaf Hossain is a manager of a restaurant in Dhanmondi that offers buffet in sehri time. ‘We are here for nearly a decade and this is only our third year of offering buffet in sehri. At first, I thought, this would be a loss of money because people would not come to eat sehri at a restaurant, let alone a buffet. However, things turned out quite differently. From the very beginning, we got tremendous response from young people and families as well’, he said. When asked about the age group of customers, Altaf said that young, university students usually come to have sehri, however, more and more families are coming making it a perfect family get together.

New Age Youth contacted a young entrepreneur, Mir Mehedi, who owns three restaurants in Dhaka. He elaborately discussed about the changing scenario of sehri time in Dhaka. ‘It all started roughly a decade ago, with Old Town’s famous Al-Razzaque, who started offering late night food to those who will fast in the following day. Soon, it became very popular and other large restaurants started offering sehri’. He also talked about his take on this changing trend, ‘Personally, I wasn’t very eager to offer such late night meals at first, because, I wasn’t sure restaurant food can meet that demand. However, I started getting countless requests from my guests to arrange sehri couple of years earlier. They also showed genuine interest in having pizza and baked pasta, in what we specialise on, for sehri. This requests came mostly from the young foodies and we started out late night menu for the month of Ramadan’, Mir said.

Another aspect comes in light while having a word with him. ‘As we are living in a Muslim majority country, many people are fasting which is a substantial blow to any restaurant business. Moreover, we have to face social pressure, which is fairly new, to not serve food to people in daytime. As a result, many restaurant owners are targeting young people and offering food at sehri to compensate their day time losses. So, apparently, this growing trend of having sehri at the restaurants has some economic connection as well.

Shamim Farhad is a sophomore student at a university in Dhaka. He lives in a hostel with other students. ‘As I do the fasting, I need to eat my dinner at late hours. In hostel, cooking is a hard work for many students. As a result, even though it is an expensive option, we often take our sehri at restaurants,’ he said. When asked about the cost of eating out he confidently replied, ‘you see, many restaurants are offering decent food at a fairly competitive prize allowing students like us, who live on a budget, to eat out at sehri’.

Another group of youths also go out for sehri. Nizhum Zahan is a university student and had her birthday during Ramadan. ‘At first, I wanted to treat my friends with an Iftar invitation but that would be too mainstream. Recently, different restaurants have come up with excellent offers for sehri and I am planning to give my friend’s my birthday in sehri’, she said. Rezvi Wahid is another Dhaka youth who had gone out for sehri several times last year and planning to do the same this year. ‘This is becoming a growing custom among my cousins to meet at least once in sehri at any restaurant and this is going to be our fourth year,’ he said indicating that youths are grabbing the chance to even hold social gathering at late nights. Moreover, many of them have said that at night, Dhaka roads are almost empty for a perfect drive. Coupled with sehri, empty Dhaka streets at night are indeed offering youths a perfect opportunity to enjoy a night out during Ramadan.

Questions about this practice, however, are arising on this ongoing practice. Zakirul Anwar looks on this practice rather critically. ‘Eating out in sehri, to me, is a rather hyped and illogical practice. While going out at the dead of the night in a city like Dhaka, you ought to be concerned about your child’s safety.

Tasnim Rumki is a third year graduate student living in Dhaka. Some of her friends made a plan to have sehri at a restaurant during this Ramadan. However, she could not attend because her father would not allow her to go on outing at the dead of the night. Sayma Azim, Rumki’s mother, however, has a different intention. ‘I think, going out for the sehri is a fantastic idea, in that way, you can take off from cooking after iftar and relax. In fact, we are planning to go out next week for sehri’. Rumki later added that she might miss eating out late night with friends, but she will enjoy the same delight with her family members.

Moreover, traditionally, these Ramadan meals are consumed in a family atmosphere, at home,’ he said. There is another aspect to this too, Anwar said, ‘as lives are getting busy, sehri outside with family and friends can be a wise decision because we get so little time to socialise and it becomes harder in Ramadan. Who knows, this might become the trend in near future’.

True, there are other concerns about eating restaurant food before fasting for a long day. Eating out often translates into eating ‘unhealthy’ involving a lot of cheese, deep fried or grilled food.

Given the enthusiasm of the youth, should we brush off the question of solemnity of a religious practice; this eating out at sehri is a rather interesting phenomenon. It allows the youth to enjoy a night life, which is absent in the Dhaka scenario. Often, it starts with having iftar outside, then shopping for the upcoming Eid, mingling with friends and family members, roaming around and wrapping the night off with a scrumptious meal at a preferred restaurant. Restaurants are putting extra effort on this meal as they are getting tremendous response from the guests, especially youths. Moreover, these late night outings are offering opportunity to hold social gathering among friends, also, late night gives the chances to enjoy empty Dhaka roads. In a nutshell, this growing culture might just be the step towards a more liberal society, where, people are allowed to enjoy their lives irrespective of time, at least during the month of Ramadan.

 

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.    

 

 

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