Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding
Bengali Food,  Dubai,  Kolkata,  Recipes

Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding to celebrate Eid

My childhood memories of Eid are associated with the rich, creamy taste of Semaiya Kheer or vermicelli pudding, also called Shimuiyer Payesh in Bengali.

Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding - specially for celebrating Eid.

Eid Mubarak! Festivities bring in lots of varied emotions… emotions of togetherness, memories of childhood and hope for the future. There’s nothing like celebrating a festival like Eid in a city like Dubai, where people from all over the world have come together and made it their homes. The word Eid means ‘festivity’ in Arabic. Every year when Eid is celebrated after the holy month of Ramadan, the city of bling readies itself to welcome more than two million visitors over the festive weekend!

Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding

Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding

Childhood memories of Eid bring in the sweet taste of Semaiya Kheer or vermicelli pudding, also called Shemuiyer Payesh (above) in Bengali. Payesh or milk pudding has a lot of significance in a Bengali’s life, specially Chaaler Payesh, or the rice pudding. It is the first initiation of solid food when an infant gets ready to embark on her/his momentous non-milk food journey and inherits the rich culinary heritage of Bengali food (do read all about 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, which is 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 part of Kolkata’s culinary heritage.

Sheer khurma is a thickened version of Shemuiyer Payesh or vermicelli pudding

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. The shimuiyer payesh, however, is sweetened with sugar and Gur or jaggery is seldom used in it. It is also less dense. The Sheer Khurma (above) is more popular amongst our Muslim friends, both from India and elsewhere in the subcontinent. The sheer khurma is a thicker version of shimuiyer payesh with a more generous amounts of dried fruits. Saffron, rosewater and Vark, edible silver foil are often added. Sheer khurma is a very popular festive breakfast with Parathas, specially Laccha Parathaa type of paratha having multiple layers and lapped generously in Ghee. Another popular variation of semaiya is the cold beverage – Falooda which itself is an adaptation of the Persian dessert Faloodeh. This 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!

Rosewater scented Faloodah, or thick strands of vermicelli, in Haridwar's famous Sharma Sweets

Eid in Dubai

With more than two million tourists expected over the Eid weekend, Dubai basks in all its glory. Cultural programs, various events, special Eid menu in different restaurants – the weekend promises to be a whole lot of fun. Leading shopping malls are open twenty four hours. More than half of the expectant tourists are from the GCC countries alone – an exciting news for the tourism and F&B industry. Nothing can beat a city immersed in its own beat as it celebrates a local festival.

Meenabazar in Bur Dubai, glitters in the night during Eid

Eid al-Fitr and 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’, also known as the Greater Eid or Eid al-Zuha. In India, it is called the Bakhri-Eid or the Feast of Sacrifice.

The latter 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 (wikipedia).

Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding

The essence of Eid to a non-Muslim like me

The beauty of growing up in a multicultural city like Kolkata is that we grew up celebrating all festivals from all religions. Although I am born in a Hindu family, on Eid, we flocked to the homes of our Muslim friends and pestered their mums, whom we addressed lovingly as mashis (which means aunties). Sumptuous meals of home-made Biryanis and Laccha Parathas were followed by never-ending refills of our bowls of shimuiyer payesh. This multi-cultural upbringing has shaped not only my personality but also my own philosophies in life as described in an earlier post of mine – Living by the water with sunset as prop – Kolkata & Ganges.

Semaiya sold in the Muslim neighbourhood of Park Circus, Kolkata

During last Eid, we were enjoying our summer holidays in Kolkata – a period I like to ‘brand’ as my summer hibernation as I go into my reticent creative cocoon. I took the Z-Sisters to Mallick Bazar in the Park Circus area. This is essentially a Muslim neighbourhood 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 stacked up semaiya bundles looked quite surreal – as if, they were fluffs of cotton wool blown by the festive breeze.

Semaiya sold in the Muslim neighbourhood of Park Circus, Kolkata

A little boy manning one of the kiosks came running to me – ‘Didi amar photo tulben?/Sister, do you want to photograph me?’ He immediately bombarded me with his next question -‘Apni ki kono bideshi magazine theke?/Are you working for any foreign magazine?’ He got disappointed that I was taking pictures… emni emni/just like that. He instructed his peers, ‘Dhoot char to didike… ja ja shob byabshay lag!/Forget her… go and mind your businesses!’

Semaiya sold in the Muslim neighbourhood of Park Circus, Kolkata

Since we weren’t buying any semaiya nor any dry fruits that day, or since I didn’t work for any foreign magazine… I was declared pretty hopeless. I wish I had met this young lad this year as I could have impressed him with my food column with Gulf News. We had planned to buy Haleem or Halim (a special Ramadan dish made with wheat, barley, meat) from one of the two popular restaurants in this area – Shiraz and Rahmania. Haleem is a delicacy and 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 one can find long queues for haleem during this Ramadan time. We too queued up for haleem and took a few containers home. Along with haleem, we also devoured the delicious Firni made by mum-in-law. Set in small earthen clay pots, firni is definitely one of my mum-in-law’s signature desserts.

Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding

  • Difficulty: easy
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Category=Dessert; Cuisine=Subcontinental

Recipe for Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding


100 gms semaiya or vermicelli (Semaiya packets are easily found in most supermarkets around Dubai)
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
a drop of mitha attar (available in Al Adil supermarkets and spice shops in the Spice Souk in Deira)

* 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).


  • Heat 3 tsp of ghee in small wok. Break the mounds of semaiya into smaller portions and stir in ghee slightly until the semaiya turns light golden
  • Boil milk in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan. Stir constantly is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt. (Dekchis are usually used for cooking rice. Please note that Payesh is always made in utensils meant for cooking rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of the susceptibility of rice grains to catch the odour of other cooked items which may overpower the delicate aroma of the dessert dish being made.)
  • 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).
  • Lower the temperature and keep on stirring until the Milk thickens (this should take about 45 minutes to an hour).
  • Add some ghee and mitha attar.
  • Garnish with pistachios, more raisins, almonds and cashew nuts which have been slightly pan roasted in ghee.
Some prefer to eat their payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire! If you aren’t one of them, let the Semaiya Kheer set for a while and refrigerate it before serving.

Sheer khurma for Eid

A lot of us living in Dubai are lucky enough to be with our friends and family. There are many however, who aren’t. 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 subah ki chai – morning tea without these parathas. Yes, he missed the sheer khurma dearly that his Ami / mother makes.

Sheer khurma for Eid

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 with their hearts filled with love for this father who was toiling away from home. The angst of a doting father is an universal phenomenon, isn’t it?

My prayers for peace and happiness going out to everyone, specially for people struggling in the war-torn areas around the world.

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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Recipes that are perfect for Eid:
Kolkata Mutton Biryani
Firni or Ferni - The broken rice pudding
Lachha Paratha – Love and ghee in every layer

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.


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