The various flavours of delicious sewai
As devout Muslims break their fast every evening during the holy month of Ramadan, two of the most preferred items on their menu are sewai and dates.
Markets are filled with a whole host of the sewai, or vermicelli traditionally used to make the sweet dish on Eid and as the wait for ‘chand ki raat’ is about to get over, rozedaars flock to the bazaars to prepare for the Sweet Feast.
In Delhi, vendors say the preference is for the Benarsi sewai while in neighboring Gurgoan the favoured sewai is that from Patna.
Navigating the bylanes of Old Delhi, women clad in burqa and salwar-kameez crowd the busy lanes in front of Jama Masjid, the over 300 year old mosque, which is said to be one of the biggest mosques in India, to select their type of sewai.
“People who are originally from Uttar Pradesh prefer Benarasi Kiwami Sewai more. It is even thinner than hair and that is why it is made using machines. In local language it is called Benarasi chhatta because a bundle of it looks like a bee-hive,” says Umez Javed Khan of Al-Karam Bakers.
Preparing Benarasi Kiwami sewai takes more time than the usual sewai because of its texture. It has to be cooked on low flame as cooking on high flame can spoil its essence and look.
In addition to this, a kilo of this sewai is cooked with a kilo of khoya, which makes this dish a little heavier on pocket than the usual ones.
However, the makeshift stalls near Jama Masjid in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar do not have many customers for Benarasi sewai.
“Here people prefer Patna’s lachche, rumaali sewai, pheni and the normal sewai. Demand for Benarasi sewai is less. We are only able to sell ten or twelve packs at maximum. That is why we get it from Delhi only on special orders and this leads to its high price. One kg costs Rs 400,” says Zaid Hussian, a makeshift stall owner.
Lachche are rolls of sewai, available in brown, white and orange colours. They are thinner than the usual sticks of sewai but not as much as the BenarasiThe various flavours of delicious sewai. Even lachches are made using machines.
Hussain claims that the white colour is not harmful for health but people usually prefer the brown ones that get its colour from slightly roasting it. The orange colour is given using a pinch of zarda (saffron), he said.
“Many buy lachche but people belonging to the eastern region, like Bihar and Bengal, prefer Patna’s lachche more, points out Hussain,” he added.
Shahjahan Parveen, who came with her husband and three children to shop for Eid says, “We prefer lachcha and rumali sewai. The taste of two will differ on the style of cooking. Like I cook lachche in milk and rumali in butter and is dry.”
Parveen who hails from Chhapra in Bihar says she moved base to Gurgaon a year ago.
Another sweet dish common among people is the pheni. Fashioned out of maida and suji it is usually fried in ghee or refined oil. Pheni is like a flat whirl of sewai, that is thicker than all other sewai and is handmade.
People usually consume pheni during sehri because it is easy to make. Pheni is soaked in milk and a little sugar is added before consuming.
“Pheni is consumed only while it is hot as lumps of ghee forms on cooling down. Here (in Delhi) people usually prefer this during Ramadan, on eid it is made in fewer homes,” says Mohd Shakeel of Asgher Bakery, in Old Delhi.
Stall owners in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar say that pheni is sold the most at their stalls and it is a popular sweet made during Eid.
“We sell pheni the most. In the last two days we have sold as many as 40,” says Shoukeen Qureshi who sits outside Gurgaon’s Jama Masjid.
Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar is populated with numerous makeshift stalls, which crop up during the holy month, all selling sewai for Eid. This is unlike the Jama Masjid area in Delhi, where small bakeries as well as makeshift stalls operate in tandem.
Hussain and Qureshi, both set up stalls during Ramadan. Hussain, otherwise, is a vegetable seller and Qureshi works at a meat shop.
There might be variation in choices but locals say they prefer such makeshift markets as they can get everything cheaper than in other places.
“The quality here is better and there is a difference of Rs 10 to Rs 15 in sewai prices,” says Afsar Sultana who resides elsewhere in Delhi but does her shopping for Eid at the stalls.