Eid ul-Adha, also referred to as qurbani Eid (qurbani meaning sacrifice), is the grand-daddy of all holidays in Bangladesh and holds a unique power that reigns supreme over every other holiday known to man: the Power of Beef.
Living in a foreign country allows one to learn a lot about differences in cultures, traditions, and even philosophies that aim to explain the meaning of life and allay our uncertainties about the origin of existence. More importantly, one realizes the many parallels between people and cultures of every land, gaining a profound appreciation for the things that bring us together.
These similarities between East and West are perhaps most noticeable during the Islamic Eid holidays. It is a time when people enjoy spending time with family and loved ones, relishing the ideal of peace on earth, exchanging gifts, watching sport on television, spending money recklessly, traveling in painstaking conditions, and…indulging in massive amounts of meat.
Most importantly, Eid ul-Adha is rich in parable to illustrate life lessons in their most basic forms: Before there is reward, there must be sacrifice.
This theme of sacrifice stems from the holiday’s symbolic reverence toward the Koranic (and biblical) story of the prophet Abraham who, when commanded by God to offer up a sacrifice to prove his loyal reverence, was fully prepared to slit the throat of his first-born son Isaac to appease the omnipotent and somewhat meddlesome creator of man in the story.
Thankfully, the originators of the Eid holiday did not call for the blood of first-born children, but rather for goats, sheep, cattle, or any other tasty animal to be substituted upon the altar of sacrifice. However, unlike Abraham’s story, the sacrificial beast does not escape the knife in real life.
While many Islamic countries witness significant reductions in their goat and sheep populations after qurbani Eid, cattle are the animals of choice to sacrifice in Bangladesh. I’m not sure why, but I think it might have something to do with added pleasure of importing (legally or illegally) sacred cows from India to spill their blood and feast upon the reincarnated relatives of their Indian neighbors. I’m probably wrong, though. All right, I am definitely wrong.
With the sacrifice comes the reward: endless platters of beef served at all hours of the day.
Looking back to my last Eid in Bangladesh, which was also my first qurbani Eid in almost a decade, I was eagerly anticipating an onslaught of beef curry, beef bhuna; eating beef for lunch, beef for dinner, beef at every single meal. I was not disappointed. [Ed. note: this article was intended to be published in 2013, but only now am I fully recovered from my overindulgence of sweet, sweet beef.]
Diary of Carnivorous Craziness: A Cautionary Tale
Rewinding to 2013, I found myself back in my old stomping grounds of Rangpur, located in northwestern Bangladesh. There, I rediscovered the magical power of beef.
Throughout the course of the holy day of Eid, I consumed an estimated 3 pounds of beef. Measuring cattle intake isn’t as easy when not presented in the form of a pre-cut, pre-measured beef steak. But if you conservatively estimate that the equivalent of an 8 oz. steak was eaten at each meal and multiply by the number of meals per day, which was six, is a simple fourth-grade equation with tasty, belt-bursting results.
Shortly after waking up, I was treated to a delectable breakfast of spicy hot beef curry. Twice. Two breakfasts. In the same day, within a span of 30 minutes at different venues, where old friends enjoyed the chance to watch my wife and I gorge on red meat from their family’s sacrificial cow.
After a painstaking two-and-a-half hours transpired without a taste of meat, lunch was to be served. Twice. At different households. The menu? Beef. And more beef. The animal kingdom was also represented by mutton (not lamb, but of the goat category), chicken, and fish. There was also pounds and pounds of oily, savory fine-grained rice.
I planned to skip dinner that evening and allow my body to catch up on the process of digestion. Perhaps it was the long period of absence from my old town of Rangpur, or perhaps the over-consumption of beef was debilitating the operation of my brain. Whatever the cause, thinking that I could slink my way out of dinner as a guest on Eid — Eid in Bangladesh — was my most naive and insanely idiotic assumption in years.
The first dinner consisted of…beef curry. However, this time, we were spared from filler side dishes like rice, fish and dal, so as to make more room for beef…and a couple of mutton chops (also known as chapli kebabs), which were fantastic even in the delirious haze of meat overload.
The second dinner was the most unexpected of them all. While we nearly talked our way out of it, I ultimately realized that resistance was futile. So…more beef. And mutton. I tried to stomach a piece of fish and it’s egg sac — to some, a delicacy, but for me, a process that nearly induced projectile vomiting.
After assuring our hosts that we had indeed received enough food for the evening (polite-speak for “I never want to eat or even see food again,” I pushed myself up and away from the table, waddled toward the front door, slipped on my sandals, and uttered a phrase so horrid and blasphemous that I still cannot believe it happened.
“I am never eating beef again.”
This Eid, I will respect the power of beef and try to maintain a stranglehold on the overwhelming urge to cram a month’s worth of meat-eating into one day. However, I hope my attempt at self restraint does not encourage you or others to follow suit. In fact, it is the antithesis of the very fabric of this blog’s being.
I close by wishing Eid Mubarak to all, and may the power of beef sanctify all those who partake in this holy sacrament, blessing us all with full stomachs, increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and stimulate the highest of euphorias that is only possible to achieve through overindulging in red meat.
Interesting take on the festival. Especially the part about how festivities bring out different behaviors in the East and the West.
Coming from a muslim family, I feel there is more Eid Ul Adha than just the gluttony. A large group of farmers wait for the festival to sell their cattle; it is a source of livelihood for them. Children get up and close with animals, feed them and pet them. Naturally, the actual sacrificial ritual is extremely difficult – but that’s the whole point: being reminded that sacrifice is a part of the human experience. Typically, my family sacrifices about $1000 and ideally, at least 66% of the meat is distributed (mostly to people who can’t afford daily protein). Nothing of the animal – not the guts, not the hide – is wasted. This is why, Bangladesh’s leather industry does most of its sourcing during Qurbani. That the Qurbani is a community activity is also important. It brings together friends and relatives; it also unites different groups of people – neighbors, household staff, security guards, beggars – people we’d never meet or interact with. And of course, as you said, the beef isn’t half bad. At the end of the day, it is the concentration of slaughtering on a single day that makes many uncomfortable. I’ll echo your sigh of relief that first-borns were spared.
Eid mubarak and as-salaam to you, Trevor.
Yeah, good points. I had included some of that info — dividing the meat into thirds, the close-knit family-friends-neighbors-uniting factors, as well as a take on foreigners’ misguided perception and overemphasis on the slaughter aspect. Anyway, hope you had a great holiday — Eid Mubarak and walaikumu salaam to you too.