The holy month of Ramadan is back once again. Bangladesh with its large Muslim population observes the month with great piety and religious fervor. The daylong fasting ends at sunset and the faithful break their fasts with a delicious meal, Iftari. Dhaka, particularly with its densely populated older section bustling and buzzing while rushing back home, and picking up Iftari items from the street Iftar corners. Almost every restaurant and eateries of the city – from the 5 stars hotels to small food outlets of the neighborhood, prepares their traditional and special Iftari items. Iftari items displayed on open air stalls and tables with the adjacent gas burner and stoves frying Iftar foods in large pans has become the Ramadan image of Dhaka. However, among all the eateries and restaurants, the traditional Iftari items of Chawkbazar has a distinct appeal to the food connoisseurs. Chawkbazar of old Dhaka is the oldest place for the traditional Iftar market. During the month of Ramadan, the entire road in front of Chawkbazar Shahi Mosque throbs with the bustling sounds of human multitude buying their Iftari items from Iftari stalls spreading from one corner of the road to another. The air of Chawkbazar—popularly known as Chawk becomes redolent with the strong aroma of the piled up heaps of Iftari delicacies laid out on large trays and in bamboo baskets. Chawkbazar has a legendary status attached with it. The fact that the Old Dhaka Iftar market has remained the same, over the decades, can be proven through the accounts of author Hakim Habibur Rahman who mentions Chawkbazar in his book ‘Dhaka: Pachas Baras Pehle’ very distinctively. He wrote, ‘…Chawk was the special market for Iftar, poor and rich, almost all citizens of the city bought Iftar from this market. Due to this, the latter part of every Ramadan day took on a festive look at Chawkbazar.’ Residents of Chawkbazar and its adjoining areas claim that the place is as old as 150 years. Ehtesam Haq, a resident of Chawk said that he has heard from his grandfather that the place has a long tradition of selling Iftari items and hence the people who are selling Iftari items mainly continuing the age old tradition of their forefathers. While the Iftar shops in other parts of the city open up around 3:00pm, Chawk begins early at 1:00pm when the city corporation authority closes the road. People, from all walks of life, plunge into the market exactly from that minute. From last year, a one-way system has been introduced to facilitate the movement of both pedestrians and vehicles, in view of overcrowding in the area during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Generally the top of the list Iftar item in all seasons for all places and for all people is ‘Muri’ (puffed rice). It goes with everything and offers something to munch on. Most common Iftar items include Chhola Boot (fried and spiced chickpeas), Beguni (a popular item prepared with Aubergine), Aloor Chop (prepared with potato), Piyaju (made with finely chopped onion with lentil paste), fried items and Sarbet (a drink prepared with fruit or sugar or molasses and water). Chawkbazar has all of these in variety and what sets this place apart is its unique and traditional experimentation with all of the popular food items served especially in Ramadan. Bangladesh is perhaps the only place in the world where you will get the six popular Iftar items – Muri, Piyajuu, Jhal Boot, Beguni, Ghoogni and Alu (potato) or Daal (lentil), Puri (doughnut shaped item made of flour with either potato paste or lentil mixed with it) all are mashed into a single preparation with a little addition of mustard oil and green chillies. It is generally taken from a large bowl as a shared delicacy. Chawkbazar sells a distinctive variety of these mashed assortments by adding minced chicken into it that goes by a grandiose name ‘Boro Baper Polay Khay’ literally meant for rich men’s sons’ consumption). However a silent conflict has been going on regarding the real ownership of this famed Iftari item. While Selim Baburchi and a few other cooks are claiming to be the real inheritor of this traditional Iftari item, the locals believe that Mohammad Salekin is the real successor of this famous food item. His grandfather Kalam Mohajon was the chef who first prepared this unique and tasty Iftari item. Salekin, while talking exclusively with Weekend Independent said, “We are the real successor of ‘Boro Baper Polay Khay.’ If you taste our product, you will feel the difference. We make it following the proper procedures, like mixing all the ingredients --chickpeas, brains, minced meat, potatoes, eggs, chicken, piyaju, beguni, 13 spices and ghee. Some other dishonest people are deceiving the customers by making the so called ‘Boro Baper Polay Khay’, which looks quite similar to our product, but the taste is very poor. My grandfather used to sell this food item by wrapping it in a jackfruit. Back then, it was priced at only 5 paisa! But now due to the price spiral of the essential commodities, we have no other option but to charge high from the customers. This year, we are charging 260 taka per kilogram.” Shouting the famous slogan ‘Boro baaper polay khay, thonga bhoira loiyya jay’, an assistant of Salekin was busy trying to catch the attention of customers. He informs, daily sale hovers around Tk 15000 to Tk 20000 during Ramadan.’ He added, “We begin preparing the item from the previous night and all this is homemade, fresh, delicious and sunptuous.” People from far flung area of Dhaka throng to Chawkbazar to buy this Iftar delicacy. Al Amin, who came from Gulshan to buy this renowned Iftari item said, “I’ve read on the newspaper and also seen on TV about this Iftari item. Now I feel really excited for being able to buy some for my family.” However, like most of the customers of the area, he also complained about the increase in prices. “Although Gulshan is a posh area where I have to spend a lot to buy Iftar items, but I did not think that Chawkbazar would be more expensive than our area. Just because they have earned the name and the fame, does not mean that they can exploit the customers in the name of traditional Iftari items” opinioned a frustrated Al Amin. As Chawkbazar’s Iftari items are related through tradition and taste, so despite the increase in prices, Dhakaites are seen thronging these shops by the hundreds. Abdul Mannan, a resident of old Dhaka said, “No matter whatever amount of money they charge, my Iftar would be poorer without Chawk. This area has been our pride and hence we will come here to buy delicious Iftari items as long as we will uphold our traditional values. Old Dhaka and Chawk’s Iftar is interrelated with each other. Moreover as I am a big fan of the oily foods of my area, so I hardly miss the chance of enjoying these items during Iftar with my family.” An array of makeshift shops can be seen in Chawkbazar where popular Iftari items are sold. Items like Irani kebab, haddi kebab, shami kebab, gurda kebab, suti kebab, nargis kebab, fish kebab, beef-kima, kashmiri paratha, nan-khatai, bakarkhani, moghlai paratha, kofta, jhal kochuri, nomok para, faluda, makhna, shahi halim, polao, bundia, kalia and korma of Chawbazar are famous for their heavenly tastes. On a positive note, this year the prices of beguni, muri, chhola, jilapi, piyaju, halim and kabab, have not increased. Md. Shahjan Miya, an Iftar seller at Chawk Bazar believes that he would be liable to God for the food he produces for the fasting people. So he takes extra caution to maintain the hygiene of the foods. Since the East Pakistan regime, from his childhood, Md. Shahjahan carried out this tradition of making Iftar like neighbors around him. This year in Chawkbazar, chicken per piece is being sold at 150 to 170 Tk, duck Tk 350, Koyel Bird Tk 50 and suti kebab per kg Tk 400 to 500. Harun, one of the shuti kabab sellers of the makeshift market, claimed that he is the third generation of businessman of their ancestral business. ‘I am running this business in order to carry our family tradition,’ he said. Harun is engaged in printing business. ‘Only during Ramadan, I come here and sell the items.” Another seller points out, during the Mughal era, shuti kabab was prepared by placing more than 15 kilogramme of meat on a single sheek (iron rod) over coal on slow heat. ‘The meat was never mixed with beshon. The meat used couldn’t be too soft to ensure that the kabab didn’t fall apart when the thread binding was loosened. The process is same even now,’ he said. Apart from makeshift shops, permanent shops of the Chawkbazar also offer special menu for pious Muslims. Ananda Bakery’s shahi paratha (Tk 200 to Tk 500), haleem (Tk 300 to Tk 600), kima paratha, shuti kabab, chicken roast are must have items for city dwellers. Descent’s Kashmiri sherbet (Tk 150), shahi haleem (Tk 250), labang (Tk 120), nimak para (Tk10), and cheese tana paratha are no exceptions. Chawkbazar is also famous for Nooranie soft drinks -- a year-long attraction that has been a traditional treat of old Dhakaites Iftar. However, the yoghurt is hand blended into a glass of lassi in front of the customers. The recipe behind their success is of course a secret. One can only guess on the ingredients used - yoghurt, sugar, rose-water, a pinch of salt. Another special item of Chawkbazar is dahi vara. This is made by mixing milk, pitha (cake) and other delicious spices. Dahi vara is sold at Tk 10-15 per piece. Grilled chicken (full) can also be bought at the price of Tk 160 to Tk 200, pigeon roast at Tk 80 to Tk 120, Coel bird roasts at Tk 60 to Tk 80. Specially grilled legs of lamb cost around Tk 260 to Tk 350. Although Ramadan is considered to be a month of showing restraint, but when it comes to breaking the fast, people don’t wish to show any restraint and buy gourmet’s delights from the wide range of Iftar delicacies. Chawk is such a place which is providing the delicacies for centuries. However, at the same time, it’s quite shocking to learn that on the 19th of August, a team from Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI) conducted an anti adulteration drive at the Chawkbazar’s Iftari shops and realised 1.10 lakh taka in penalty on 6 shops for preparing adulterated food items. Though the shop owners are claiming that they did not use any harmful chemical in their food items, but their statement is not quite believable. The yearly treat of chawkbazar’s Iftari is something Dhakaites do not want to miss for any reason but if the dishonest traders show blatant disregard for people’s health issue, then its high time to say adieu to Chawk’s Iftar. Many Iftari shops have sprung up in the city now, but Chawkbazar is and we hope will be, the one which would hold its distinct and traditional appeal in the years to come. However, for that, the Iftar sellers have to maintain the hygiene standards for smooth continuation of their long tradition.