In the holy month of Ramazan, people who are fasting use nutritious food for Sehar to keep themselves going till Iftar. It has been observed that people prefer to eat foods at that do not upset their stomach, cause heart burns, yet provide strength to the body to last the day.
One such favourite is khajla and pheni. Khajla is similar to a hard puri and is larger in size, while pheni is fried vermicelli. They are eaten with milk, much like cereal. Some like their kajla and pheni soft so they keep them in warm milk to soften. Others like their breakfast cereal crispy so they take khajla or pheni with chilled milk, with or without sugar.
The use of khajla and pheni in Sehri is a tradition. However, this year, the soaring price of cooking oil and ghee, a basic ingredient used in these food items, has doubled. Therefore, the prices of the products have also increased significantly.
Sehar is considered incomplete without khajla or pheni. Ghee-scented pheni and khajla is soaked in milk for a while and then consumed at Sehri. Most people add sugar to sweeten it and those who abstain from sugar enjoy it without the sweetening.
While every cook will say that the secret ingredient is always love, preparation of khajla and pheni is a laborious task and requires special skills. Most of the skilled people from different cities of Punjab like Kasur, Sahiwal, Okara, Chunian and Patoki come to Karachi to make pheni and khajla.
The seasonal labourers come a month ahead of Ramazan for making khajla pheni from the month of Shaban and the process continues till the last ten days of fasting month.
Pheni is made by leading bakery brands and neighbourhood shops alike. However, vendors prefer to buy it in wholesale and sell in retail.
Pheni is prepared in factories where many people are busy various processes simultaneously. Pehini is made from flour for which the flour is first kneaded, after which ghee is mixed and the dough is allowed to rest for at least three hours. After that, these are converted into a round shape just like flour paira and then it is turned into curved sticks by hand and finally fried in ghee.
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Besides Pheni, khajla is also a special treat in Ramazan and it is prepared from flour. It is made in the form of layered trees which blossom in hot oil and take the form of soft khajla. The khajla-Pheni is placed in a special arrangement in the shape of a circle, both above and below, and wrapped in plastic to protect it from the wind. Muhammad Saleem, whose family has been making khajla pahini for two generations in the Gulbahar area of Rizvia Society, says it is actually a tradition of the Mughal royal family which spread from its capital in Delhi to the entire subcontinent. "Those who migrated from India brought with them the taste of this tradition."
Saleem adds that khajla pheni are easy to digest and nourishing, "that is why using them for Sehar is useful to stay active while fasting. The other important thing is that the khajla pheni can be prepared immediately and people of all ages can eat it easily."
Khajla pheni supress hunger and thirst throughout the day and do not cause heartburn like other Sehri items such as paratha and eggs or aloo puri.
He said that if quality ghee is used, pheni and khajla give a pleasant aroma, however, if the makers cut cost by usineg substandard or recycled cooking oil and ghee, the delicacy gives of a fermented smell and a bad after taste.
According to Sleem, wholesale price of pheni has increased to Rs480 per kg from Rs240 per kg over the year due to phenomenal increase in the rates of ghee and cooking ouil.
At the same time, khajla pheni prepared from dairy butter oil or pure ghee, is sold for at least Rs1,200 per kg or in small packing of Rs240 per 200 grams this year.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2022.
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