With the 40-days of fasting coming to an end, Chef Vineet Manocha (Senior VP, Culinary, Lite Bite Food) talks about his memory of seviyan, the noodle culture in India and what made the bowl a special treat.
By Madhulika Dash
Eid for me is Meethi Seviyan. Be it any Seviyan – the payasam style you get in South of India, to the dried one from Hyderabad and some parts of Lucknow, to the Muzzafari style with clotted cream and the Karva Chauth style kheer in North. In fact, a bowl of deliciously slurpy kheer is in many ways an emotion for me. Nothing translates a sense of belonginess, love and brotherhood like a bowl of seviyan. One of the few reasons why I, like many others, always wait patiently for the Eid morning to be invited for my fill of happiness. But have you ever wondered why is it that seviyan taste best in Eid? Why of all the noodle formats in the country, seviyan was the only kind to conquer India – you would find versions of dishes made from this thread like noodle from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, which includes common favourites like Seviyan Upma and Seviyan ki Biryani? And where and how did this brilliant idea come to life?
Fascinatingly, a dig into our culinary pages will reveal that Seviyan was neither the gift of Marco Polo, as believed earlier, nor the Mughals, who are often credited for bringing in the two iconic gourmet dishes made with seviyan, Falooda and the Sheer Khurma. In fact, seviyan is one of the finest examples of the traditional practice of preserving food through dehydration.
Legend has it that the art of making Seviyan began during the early period of civilisation when each settlement ran a risk of falling prey to the calamities of nature, and food preservation was an essential. The practice of Seviyan making may have begun around the time with rice and millets being the common base ingredient. Was it as thin as it is today? Had to be for practical purposes, of course over the years the thinness was redefined as the purpose for seviyan transformed from one that needed cooking to becoming instant meals. One such example is of the Lucknow and Hyderabad hand rolled seviyan, a favourite during Ramadan, that come pre-roasted and are often ready to eat with some warm milk, nuts and dates thrown onto it.
In fact, legend has it that this form of Seviyan was inspired by the Persian style of making Khimia Seviyan, which is a sinfully delicious sweetmeat made with nearly zero-girth, pre-roasted seviyan strands. These dangerously fragile strands were tossed with ghee, a hint of rose water and then lavished with nuts, dates, cinnamon and a smidgen of sugar. It made for an addictive breakfast and an apt dish to welcome the new beginning, which is called Eid. It was this form of seviyan that was brought in by the Mughals who established a new style of seviyan kheer called the Dum Ki Seviyan, which was a cusp between the traditional kheer in India and the richer Shir Beeranj of the Middle East. Of course, the kurma made in the Mughal Harem for this occasion became more lavish with time with the addition of dry fruits, varq, saffron and even khoya.
But the version that was immensely enjoyed was the simple milk, sugar, seviyan and dates. Of course, what lend this simple affair its brilliance was the seviyan used was often handrolled. Legend has it that the Sheer Kurma was prepared from the seviyan that was rolled by the royal family themselves during the 40-days of Ramadan. The poet emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was rather fond of making his own seviyan. In fact, it was the one activity that many royals shared with the commoners, who indulged in seviyan rolling – especially the long, rice grain-style, to beat the time during Ramadan.
My introduction to seviyan too was at home. I learnt the art of finger clicking while making seviyan. I remember the womenfolk of our family would sit together and roll these little grains that we called Jave with their hands. It was a fascinating process to see how mounds of gummy clay dough would disappear into this huge platter of seviyan that would be made into different dishes through the year. But the two preparation that became a part of my memory of Meethi Seviyan was Eid and Karwa Chauth. I grew up in Old Delhi and would always wait for the Eid wali Seviyan from our neighbourhood and the leftover Sargi Feniyan to feel the sense of happiness, love and belonging.
Even as a chef, it is my two, essential bowls of the year.
Secret To a Delicious Sheer Khurma
The best sheer kurma will always be the one that is made for you, with love. But over the years there are a few things that I have realised as a chef that make for an interesting Seviyan Kheer or Khurma.
The first of it is the seviyan. Hand rolled seviyan always turn out better than the machine one. Two, look for something that uses a collection of flour like rice, semolina and maida in whatever quantity. This ensures flavour build up. A good pick will be the seviyan from Hyderabad that comes seasoned and hence tastes better. While the rest depends upon the quality of ghee and milk used, the lingering earthy sweetness plays a big role too. So pick quality dates and rehydrate them in milk. This ancient Middle Eastern trick helps create a sweet layering that gives the kheer or khurma that unforgettable mouthfeel. And remember, khoya and balai are always the finishing touches to a good khurma.