City Food – Sewai, Around Town
Sweet soul food.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is the sweet food of Ramzan, the holy month when Muslims are required to fast till the sunset to cleanse their soul. In evenings, the decorated alleys in Delhi’s dominantly Muslim neighbourhoods such as Jamia Nagar, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti and Matia Mahal are lined with stalls selling sewai.
Thin strands of wheat flour, sewai are boiled in rose-flavoured milk, occasionally garnished with pistachio nuts, almonds and rasins, and are taken as dessert.
At home, the women prepare the sewai strands by straining the flour in a fine muslin cloth, after which they knead it into smooth dough. There are also sewai-making machines with perforations. The dough is divided into little balls and squeezed into the appliance. As you turn the handle, the shredded dough, now neat sewai strands, falls out from the other end. The older process was painstaking, but more social. Neighbourhood women gathered on the terrace and over gossip and chai, churned out sewai, which were left under the sun to dry.
The sewai sold on streets during Ramzan — Rs 50 for a 1kg bundle — are less romantic. Not handmade, they are manufactured at factories in Seelampur, East Delhi. Unlike the homemade off-white variety, these come roasted, giving them a golden shade. Some are even dyed in bright green and saffron. The street carts also sell an instant version, faini, only to be soaked in milk. This coil-shaped variant is usually taken at sehri, the pre-dawn meal before the fast.
Crisp and brittle, the market sewai easily soften when boiled in milk — the conventional preparation. There are other ways of cooking it, too. In khushk sewai, the strands are fried in desi ghee, soaked in chashni (sugar syrup) and sprinkled with nuts. Interestingly, this is also a Raksha Bandhan delicacy among Hindus, thus making the sewai a binder of faiths.
The strands of sewai