Ramadan this year won’t be the same, says chef Mamoona Hilal.
Hilal and her husband Muhammad Safi own Hilal Grill, a halal restaurant in east Phoenix where they serve a mix of Pakistani, Afghani and Indian food. Business has fallen drastically during the COVID-19 crisis, but Hilal said she will still offer a Ramadan menu — only this year, it will be in take-out form.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began this year on the evening of April 23 and ends the evening of May 23. Traditionally, it’s a period for spiritual reflection and prayer. Observers fast from sunup to sundown, breaking fast with iftar, the evening meal and for many Muslims, a communal event.
“We were waiting the whole year for this month,” Hilal said. “Everybody gets together and celebrates. We go all over to people’s houses to celebrate. But it’s messed up. We cannot invite people or able to go anywhere.”
What to expect on the take-out menu
Hilal said the restaurant offers a mix of Pakistani, Indian and Afghani food to represent her family’s heritage: Pakistani for where she grew up, Indian for where her parents grew up and Afghani for her husband.
During Ramadan, the restaurant would normally have a buffet. This year the restaurant will offer a menu that changes daily. The first week of menus includes:
- Saturday, April 25: Mixed pakora, channa chaat, chicken patties and goat haleem.
- Sunday, April 26: Aloo pakora, dahi baray, beef samosa and hyderabadi chicken biryani.
- Monday, April 27: Closed.
- Tuesday, April 28: Chicken samosa, Punjabi dahi bhallay, chicken sandwich and daal gosht.
- Wednesday, April 29: Chicken cheese croquettes, fruit cream, chicken pakora and daal maash.
- Thursday, April 30: Spinach cheese patties , fruit chaat, vegetable samosa and angaar chicken karhai.
There will also be traditional drinks available every day. People can find the full menu online on Hilal Grill’s Facebook page and call to place their order by 5 p.m.
Hilal said she is also planning two days during Ramadan to give away free iftar meals to anyone in need, with the help of her friends’ donations. In previous years she cooked charity meals once a week, but this year she can only do what she can afford, Hilal said.
The meals will be distributed at either Hilal Grill or from her local mosque, which has closed because of COVID-19.
This is the holy month, the time for charity, Hilal said. And in tough times, generosity is needed more than ever, she added.
‘Behind everything bad, there will be good’
Hilal moved to Phoenix in 2009 from her hometown Lahore, the capital of Pakistan. She and her husband opened the restaurant in 2012 — then called Tahoora Grill — on the northwest corner of 40th Street and McDowell Road.
Running a restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic has been a nightmare, she said. She’s had to cut her employees’ hours and some of them have already quit. This had led to her spending less time with her family at home and more time at the restaurant, trying to keep things running.
She applied for loans from the Small Business Administration three weeks ago, but she hasn’t received an update since then, Hilal said.
Despite the situation, her faith is helping her persevere. Each day has been a lesson in patience, she said.
“My faith is in my God,” Hilal said. “Whatever he decides for us, it’s gonna be good. I’m just dealing with that. I pray to my god and Allah, that behind everything bad, there will be good. This is my belief.”
Details: Hilal Grill, 1638 N. 40th Street, Phoenix. 602-275-1815, facebook.com/hilalgrill.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] Follow @priscillatotiya on Twitter and Instagram.
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