Food

Thiruvananthapuram’s date with dates

Bowl of dried dates on wooden background from top view

Bowl of dried dates on wooden background from top view   | Photo Credit: baibaz

This is the season to try out the different varieties of this fruit that is rich in iron and vitamins

Feasting and fasting go hand-in-hand during Ramzan. The sumptuous spread for Iftar may vary but the feasting in the evening begins with dates, a staple all during the season. Right from roadside vendors and fruit stalls to general stores and supermarkets, one can find it everywhere.

The large demand for dates during Ramzan is owing to both dietary and cultural reasons. Opening the Iftar (breaking of fast) with dates is customary as dates, rich in iron and vitamins, can give an instant energy boost.

Naushad ‘Big Chef’ recalls how in his childhood a variety of dates grown in the border regions of Rajasthan, which was mixed with jaggery, used to reach Kerala during temple festivals. “There weren’t so many varieties then. Also dates were considered a luxury then as they were rather expensive.”

With the influx of travellers from Western Asia, markets and outlets in the city have seen a wide variety of dates to cater to different tastes. Till a couple of years ago, people were familiar with just a handful of dates such as Fard, Safwa and Ambar. “Non-resident Indians, especially those residing in West Asia, who usually come home to visit their family during the Ramzan month popularised dates and its numerous varieties,” says Mahin Azad, director of Bread Factory by Azad.

Variety of dates at Nutz N Fruits in Thiruvananthapuram

Variety of dates at Nutz N Fruits in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

Dates are imported from the Arab countries to major centres in India such as Chennai and Mumbai. Apart from dates from Iran and Tunisia, there are dates from Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE too. Dates such as Majdool, for instance, come in five- and 10 kg boxes. “We sort, clean and repack them into 250 gm or 500 gm packets. Prices tend to sky-rocket when the yield is less. We pack them in 150 gm boxes when that happens,” explains Mahin.

Wholesale traders of dry fruits and spices say dates are in demand all through the year. “Sales, however, is brisk during the month of Ramzan,” says Sidhik PB, proprietor of Nutz ‘N’ Fruitz at East Fort.

Fresh dates have also entered the market and varieties such as Kimia, Akbar and Ajwa are sought after. Some of the sellers claim that Ajwa and pre-packed Tunisian dates that come in 300 gm and 500 gm packets are a hit among customers. “We have freezer facilities to stock fresh dates as they can’t be left in the open for more than a week or so. Nowadays, certain varieties, especially those from Iran, come in air-tight packets,” adds Sidhik.

According to Shaheen of PMP Traders in East Fort, traders from the suburbs of the district buy boxes of dates to meet the demand in their locality. Mosques in the city too buy dates in the bulk. The prices start from ₹180 a kg and can go up to ₹2,500 as in the case of Ajwa.

The stiff competition in the market is obvious as new stores that have opened in the city bring in more and new varieties. “Roadside vendors create a dent in our business during this time of the year as they set up shops in different neighbourhoods,” says Shaheen.

Juicy Ajwa dates

Juicy Ajwa dates   | Photo Credit: Harikumar JS

The bigger outlets compete by providing more varieties of dates. For instance, Ajfan Dates and Nuts at Mall of Travancore has over 30 different kinds of the fruit. “Most of those available at the store are produced in our farms in Saudi Arabia. The Safawi and Sukkari varieties, which are sweet, have been the most sought-after,” says Jamsheer CP. At their store, perhaps, the only non-Saudi variety available at the store is the Mejdhool dates from Jordan.

Sajna Noufal Ali, who runs Nut N Fruits at Kowdiar, feels that customers in the city are now asking for dates that are unique by taste, texture and nutritional value.

And there is a variety of dates to suit every palette: syrupy rich, honey flavoured, caramel like, nutty, chocolate coated, nut-filled... Dates are also used in pickles, syrups and as an ingredient in certain bake recipes. Looks like our date with dates is turning into a steady affair.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:08:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/this-is-the-season-to-try-out-the-different-varieties-of-dates/article27205950.ece

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