Like many of my food-obsessed friends in Queens I’m fascinated by iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast observed during this Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Jackson Heights it makes its presence known in the form of so-called iftar boxes sold on tables outside the Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants. While they look tasty there’s little variety among them. Most include a pakora, some rice, dates, and a sweet or two. So I’m grateful Anne Noyes Saini wrote about our borough’s other more diverse iftar offerings, including a gratis buffet held every weekend at Astoria’s Masjid Al Hikmah.
The mosque’s amazing Indonesian food festivals—featuring satay, noodle soups, and grilled fish, among many other things—are on hiatus during the month of Ramadan. So I decided to check out the free communal iftar meal served at sundown last Sunday.
In order to get the lay of the land I showed up about an hour before sundown. In retrospect this may not have been a good idea. The last thing many of the volunteers who were busy coordinating the buffet meal for the horde of people about to come out of evening prayer wanted to deal with was some dude with a camera walking around asking questions.
Before everyone streamed out of the mosque I snagged a plate from the “Sisters Only” side of the massive buffet. It featured some lovely ayam goreng, or fried chicken and sambal goreng kentang, a spicy mixture of shrimp and potatoes with chunks of liver. When I asked what region of Indonesia the food was from, one of the volunteers informed me that last weekend was “potluck.”
Like all of the food I’ve ever tasted in the parking lot of Masjid al Hikmah my second iftar plate was amazing. Everything was cooked in the homes of volunteers. And judging by the presence of some channa, or chickpea curry some of those volunteers were South Asian.
As I was leaving Hendra Hamid who hails from Medan in North Sumatra was excited to inform me that next weekend’s iftar offerings will feature the spicier fare from Padang in West Sumatra. I can hardly wait!
Masjid al Hikmah, 48-01 31st Ave., Astoria