British chef Aktar Islam shares his best Eid food memories
His mum's home cooked Bangladeshi treats still influence his cooking
Some of his favorite Eid dishes are shir khurma, yakhni pulaos, samosas and kebabs
Editor’s Note: Aktar Islam is one of Britain’s premier chefs, specializing in South Asian cuisine. Born and bred in Birmingham, Islam’s exposure to British cuisine and the strong influence from his Bangladeshi heritage have shaped his approach and unique style. He has won several awards including the BBC Great British Menu, and his restaurant Lasan won the Gordon Ramsey’s Best Local Restaurant award.
Eid in the Islam household was always a very special occasion for me; it was when I’d get to see family and friends and, most of all, I could eat myself silly, gorging on amazing Asian food!
What sticks in the memory most was the build-up; this would begin several days prior to Eid – mum would be busy preparing the sauces and marinades which were invariably rich, vibrant reds and greens. The aromas emanating from the kitchen were so intense that our mouths watered in anticipation as our bellies simultaneously whined “are we there yet?”
The day went something like this: We’d be up extremely early and the food fest would begin with Shir Khurma for breakfast. This is a lovely vermicelli and milk pudding, spiced with cardamom and cinnamon and served with an Indian rusk.
Morning cravings sated, we’d then make our way to the Mosque for prayer until around 11am. As we were leaving the mosque, I remember feeling excited at the prospect of going home for a huge selection of tasty deep-fried goodies, which usually consisted of samosas (lamb and potato and chicken and pea), pakoras and lentil and ginger cakes, all served with relishes and tomato ketchup.
At this point, people would be gathered at the house and we’d make visits to friends’ and relatives’ houses, where we’d be treated to sweet tea and samosas.
Around 1pm we’d get back to a house full of people and start tucking into a delicious lunch of mutton yakhni pulao, a classic rice dish from Lucknow; this would be accompanied by lamb and chicken kormas – very lightly spiced with aromatic milk sauces. There’d always be a boiled egg added too.
In addition, there would be spiced roast chicken and spicy kebabs. Dessert always tended to be coconut samosas and sweet semolina. Eid is a particularly ostentatious event and, I can remember mum putting silver leaf on the rice and puddings as decoration.
I would have to say that Biryanis/pulaos, samosas, kebabs and Indian sweets and puddings best showcase the culinary traditions around Eid. If I were cooking to impress I would stick to these traditional, simple dishes.
I say simple, but aesthetics aside, they’re anything but; this food’s actually very intricate as the flavors have to be subtle, which is quite difficult to pull off, especially in the case of a pulao. In my opinion, if you can make a perfect pulao the culinary aspect of Eid will be a joyous time and a huge success, as all the other dishes are complementary to it.