During Ramadan, a centuries-old Middle Eastern dish takes on a special flavor in the Pakistani metropolis
KARACHI: During the Muslim month of fasting, a traditional Middle Eastern dish, hares, takes on a special flavor in Karachi, where the original recipe is passed down from generation to generation by descendants of Arabs who emigrated centuries ago centuries to the Indian subcontinent.
Hare is one of the oldest dishes in the Middle East. It was already included in the first known Arabic cookbook, “Kitab Al-Tabih” (“The Book of Dishes”), compiled in Baghdad in the 10th century.
The name harees comes from the Arabic word “harasa”, which means to crush or crush. As the name suggests, in the preparation of hares, wheat is ground with goat or mutton and then cooked over low heat until creamy.
The dish was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by immigrants from the Middle East who, in the 17th century, arrived in Hyderabad, a former princely state in the south-central Deccan region of present-day India. Their descendants moved to Pakistan after the partition of British India in 1947 and settled in the port of Karachi in an area now known as Hyderabad Colony.
Shaikh Saeed bin Mohsin Baqirf Alamudi, whose father was among those who migrated from Hyderabad to the Karachi district, traced his family’s origins to Yemen.
“When my father was alive, Yemeni culture was always part of our household,” he said.
Alamudi estimates that there are now 500 families of similar ancestry in Karachi, but many of their members don’t even speak Arabic anymore.
“We still follow certain things from our culture, like our dress and our food,” he added.
Qahwah, the most popular type of brewed coffee in the Middle East, regularly accompanies his daily meals, especially during the month of Ramadan.
And hares too.
“Harees is popular with people,” he said. “At home, we eat hares with tenderness.”
Syed Mumtaz Ali, also a resident of Hyderabad Colony, said it was “a dish of Arabs”.
His father opened a hare shop in the area more than five decades ago. Now Ali runs his own restaurant, Munnu Bhai Food Corner, a continuation of his father’s business.
“The method is the same,” he said. “I haven’t changed it. It’s the same mixture of wheat and meat, but we added our own spices to it.
On usual days, most shoppers are of Arab descent, but during Ramadan, members of every Pakistani community arrive in the Hyderabad settlement to break their fast with hares or take them home for dinner from the iftar.
“I sell 4 to 4.5 maunds (up to 180 kg) of hares a day,” Ali said.
Right next to Munnu Bhai Food Corner, there are two other joints serving the same dish, showing how popular it is in the area.
For Saleh Abdullah Bawazir, also a Pakistani Arab, hares and his community are inseparable.
“It’s mandatory,” he said. “We can’t live without it.”