What’s the secret ingredient that makes the Ramzan nombu kanji special?

Abdulla scoops a bowlful of the steaming nombu kanji, and lowers the bowl into a tub of water, just so slightly. He rotates the floating bowl a few times in the water till the kanji’s temperature is just right. “Try it,” he says, offering it to us. He then busies himself with stirring the kanji, which is in a gigantic container on the stove. But we know he is looking at us through the corner of his eye. “Did you like it?” he asks, once we finish the entire serving at one go. “It’s excellent…” Before we can even finish our sentence, Abdulla swings into action — he fills a bottleful of the kanji for us to take home. This is why the Ramzan nombu kanji is so special — it is an offering prepared and served with love.

In the backyard of the Wallajah Big Mosque, some four men make 50 kg of the gruel at 7.30 a.m. every day during the month of Ramadan. The dish is offered at the mosque to break the roza or fast at 6.45 p.m. Once the servings begin, people from the neighbourhood walk in with containers to take some for their family. They look forward for it to be served; for there’s nothing like some kanji to warm the insides of the starving stomach.

Made of raw rice and green gram, cooked to a smooth porridge consistency and seasoned with spices, the kanji’s flavours are much like the biryani. The tomatoes and onions floating in it are like mere apparitions — they melt away once inside your mouth without a trace. The kanji is defined by its trademark fragrance. The area where it’s cooked is enveloped with an aroma of spices.

“It’s very healthy,” smiles Ansar, a helper. “Eat this for a month and you will do well at work. It makes you strong,” he adds. Ansar’s favourite variety is the kanji served at Makkah Masjid on Anna Salai. “It has mutton in it,” he explains.

The nombu kanji is transferred to small containers by volunteers at around 3 p.m. But why is it made so early in the day? “That,” explains Abdulla “is so that its temperature is just right for consumption at 6.45 p.m.” The best way to have the kanji is with chicken samosa or vadai. It’s delicious on its own, nevertheless.

Basha’s recipe

Basha, a biriyani master, is also a nombu kanji expert. The 65-year-old has been making it if for 40 years.

Method

Sauté a few cloves, cinnamon, cut onions and tomatoes, and ginger garlic paste. To the mixture, add mint and coriander leaves, green chillies, turmeric powder, chilli powder, garam masala, and salt. Add water and bring to a boil. Now add broken raw rice and cooked green gram and cook till the kanji reaches a porridge consistency.