Childhood memories of Eid bring in the sweet taste of Semaiya Kheer or vermicelli pudding, also called Shemaiyer Payesh in Bengali.
Eid Mubarak! Festivities bring in lots of varied emotions… emotions of togetherness, memories of childhood and hope for the future. Nothing like being in a city like Dubai, where people from all over the world come together and call them their homes. The word Eid means ‘festivity’ in Arabic. And here we are, in the city of bling, readying ourselves to welcome two million expected visitors over this festive weekend!
Childhood memories of Eid bring in the sweet taste of Semaiya Kheer or vermicelli pudding, also called Shemaiyer Payesh (above) in Bengali. Payesh or milk pudding has a lot of significance in a Bengali’s life, specially the rice pudding. It is the first initiation of solid food when an infant gets ready to embark on his/her momentous non-milk food journey (you can read more about traditional Bengali food in my earlier post). The introduction of semaiya to Bengali cuisine happened organically with the Islamic influence in Bengal. In 1857 AD after the Awadh kingdom (modern day Lucknow in India) was annexed by the British, the Nawab was exiled to Calcutta (today’s Kolkata). His passion for gourmet food traveled from Lucknow to Calcutta and was nurtured, garnished and fuelled by his special Bawarchis or the Chefs of the Nawab. Mughlai food has since then become Kolkata’s culinary heritage.
I have always associated semaiya with Eid celebrations. The shimuiyer payesh that I have eaten at most Bengali homes, is made much like the rice pudding, excepting that the shimuiyer payesh is sweetened with sugar. Gur or jaggery is seldom used in it and is less dense. However, the Sheer Khurma (above) is more popular with our Muslim friends who originate either from India or elsewhere in the subcontinent. The sheer khurma is a thicker version of shimuiyer payesh with the addition of more dried fruits and rosewater. Sheer Khurma is a very popular festive breakfast with Parathas, specially Lacchas – a type of parathas having multiple layers, all lapped and dunked generously in Ghee. Another popular variation of semaiya is the cold beverage – Falooda which itself is an adaptation of the Persian dessert Faloodeh and is very popular in Iran, Pakistan, North India and Afghanistan. The rosewater flavoured falooda (below) that we had in Haridwar is still lingering on my tastebuds!
Eid in Dubai
With two million tourists expected over the this Eid weekend, Dubai is bulging. Cultural programs, various events, special Eid menu in different restaurants – the weekend promises to a whole lot of fun. Needless to say that most of the leading shopping malls are going to remain open twenty four hours. More than 1.5 million tourists are expected from the GCC countries alone and hotel occupancy has touched almost 100%, with the availability of and hotel apartments being a thing of the past.
Eid Al- Adha
Whereas Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan – the Islamic holy month of dawn-to-sunset fasting, Eid al-Adha means ‘solemn festivity’. Today is Eid al-Adha, also known as the Greater Eid or Eid al-Zuha. In India, it is called the Bakhri-Eid or the Feast of Sacrifice.
This is an important four-day religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honour the willingness of the prophet ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) to sacrifice his young firstborn son Ismā’īl (Ishmael) as an act of submission to God, and his son’s acceptance of the sacrifice before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead… more in wiki
The essence of Eid to a non-Muslim like me
Though we are Hindus, we grew up celebrating all festivals from all religion in Kolkata. So Eid would mean that we would flock to the homes of our Muslim friends and pestering their mums – all addressed lovingly as mashis or aunties, to refill our bowls of shimuyer payesh. We would ransack their kitchens for home-made Biryanis and Laccha Parathas. An earlier post – Living by the water with sunset as prop – Kolkata & Ganges, talks about this multi-cultural upbringing that shaped my own philosophies in life.
During last Eid, we were enjoying our summer holidays in Kolkata – a period I like to ‘brand’ as our summer hibernation! I took the Z-Sisters to Mallick Bazar in Park Circus area. This is essentially a Muslim neighborhood and the road-side kiosks were full of semaiya, mixed dried fruits, Firni mixes (a dessert pudding made with rice powder) and brightly coloured glass bangles. The semaiya bundles were stocked up high looking quite surreal – as if they were fluffs of cotton wool blown by the festive breeze.
A little boy manning the jiosk came running to me – ‘Didi amar photo tulben?/Sister, do you want to photograph me?’ Immediately bombarding me with the next question -‘Apni ki kono bideshi magazine theke?/Are you working for any foreign magazine?’ And the real heart-jolter was when he got really disappointed that I was taking pictures… emni emni/just like that. He instructed the others – ‘Dhoot char to Didike… ja ja shob byabshay lag!/Forget her… go and mind your business!’
We buy any semaiya, nor any dry fruits. On top of that I didn’t even work for any foreign magazine and declared absolutely hopeless. However, we ended up buying Haleem or Halim (a special Ramadan dish made with wheat, barley, meat) from two popular restaurants in this area – Shiraz and Rahmania. Haleem is a delicacy and it is cooked in large quantities in a huge aluminium cooking pot. In the Park Circus and Mallick Bazar area, there are many alleys and small restaurants where you’ll find long queues for haleem. We too queued for haleem and took a container home. On reaching home, we devoured the delicious Firni made by Mum-in-law, all set in small earthen clay pots.
100 gms semaiya or vermicelli (Semaiya packets are easily found in most supermarkets around Dubai) * You may substitute this with low-fat milk. Many prefer to use sweetened condense milk – in that case you will need much less milk (1 ½ lt low-fat milk, ½cup sweetened low-fat condensed milk).
Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding
2 lts full cream milk *
1 cup sugar (use less sugar if you are using sweetened condense milk)
4 cardamom pods, crushed into powder
¼ cup cashew nuts, unsalted
¼ cup almonds, slivered
¼ cup raisins, soaked in water
2 tsp pistachios, for garnishing
4 tsp ghee or Indian Clarified Butter – 4tsp
a drop of mitha attar (available in Al Adil supermarkets and spice shops in the Spice Souk in Deira)
– Add semaiya when the milk comes to a boil. Keep stirring to thicken the milk and cook the semaiya.
– Add cardamom, sugar, cashew nuts, almonds, raisins and sweetened condense milk (if you are using the latter).
Let the Semaiya Kheer set for a while and refrigerate it. Serve it cold. However, some prefer to eat their payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire!
100 gms semaiya or vermicelli (Semaiya packets are easily found in most supermarkets around Dubai)
* You may substitute this with low-fat milk. Many prefer to use sweetened condense milk – in that case you will need much less milk (1 ½ lt low-fat milk, ½cup sweetened low-fat condensed milk).
While a lot of us living in Dubai are lucky enough to be with our friends and family, many of us are not. There are many people toiling in the city just to earn a living so that their loved ones can have a decent life back in their home countries. My greetings and warm wishes to all of them. Most likely, my wishes are not going to reach all them as I doubt that these are the people who are going to read my post. Writing food posts while taking photo-shots of them in well laid out dining table in the air-conditioned comforts of our homes, may seem preposterous to some. However, I try to do my little bit. I was awake to greet Eid Mubarak to the man who delivers the newspapers daily as early as 3 am in the morning, throwing out the newspapers as he stands inside the lift, aiming them perfectly as they land in-front of the main doors of the different apartments in the floor that we live in. At the time I had greeted him, he had 30 more floors to go!
I was once having a conversation with one of the taxi-drivers of Dubai Taxi. He was talking about a rice that is made during Eid in his home in Pakistan where a special type of rice is cooked in masala. He was saying how he missed the parathas that are made for breakfast during festive days and other celebrations. He was reminiscing how his kids refuse to have their normal subeh ka chai – morning tea without these parathas. And yes, he missed the sheer khurma dearly that his Ami / mother makes.
I am hoping that his emotions and greetings reach his children at home. I am also hoping that the Eidi (money given to the children for buying gifts during Eid) that he’s sent home was being used by wisely by his children wisely. The angst of a doting father is an universal phenomenon, isn’t it?
Here’s my prayers for peace and happiness going out for everyone and specially people struggling in the war-torn regions all around this region and in the world.
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Recipes that are perfect for Eid: Kolkata Mutton Biryani Firni or Ferni - The broken rice pudding
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