Food Stories: Saviyaan

18 Jul 2015

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After a month of abstinence, Eid ul-Fitr is associated with feasting and would just not be complete without saviyaan. —Creative commons
After a month of abstinence, Eid ul-Fitr is associated with feasting and would just not be complete without saviyaan. —Creative commons

My memories associated with Ramazan and meethi Eid are of wonderful times with family, friends; food, laughter, joy and of course, saviyaan.

My mother made the most delicious saviyaan come Eid every year, however, it was only Eid kay Eid. As my father returned home from the mosque after Eid namaz, we would line up for Eidi, and our wonderful cook Basher would bring in the trolley laden with delectable Eid goodies, with the golden saviyaan always sitting front and center.

I was never a saviyaan (vermicelli) fan up until my mother asked me how I could claim to be a foodie and not like saviyaan! Her doubtfulness about my passion for food made me rethink, and come Eid-ul-fitr 1993, for the first time I tasted and became a lifelong fan of the Eid saviyaan.

Saviyaan and Sheer Khurma are both Eid favourites, and are considered Mughlai. Sheer means milk in Persian and Khurma means dates, how and when vermicelli was added to this delightful dessert is anyone’s guess.

The cooks in the royal kitchens decided to make a ghee, sugar dessert (much in the style of halvah, a reduction dessert) keeping the vermicelli as the base. Milk was used to make the dessert, but only sparingly and it was topped with all kinds of nuts.

The Oxford companion to food by Alan Davidson says the following about saviyaan;

Sev and Seviyaan; Indian noodle term. The Sanskrit name for noodles is sevika, which may derive from an unrecorded word meaning thread connected with the root siv, which refers to sewing.

Sev are crisp fried noodles prepared from besan flour. To make them a special press, a sev maker is used. They are a popular snack food in the subcontinent.

Seviyan (also seviya, sivayya, shavayi) usually refers to a sweet dish of vermicelli noodles [made from flour, and or flour, semolina].

In an article published in the newsletter Fine Dining, titled Celebrating Eid-al-Fitr around the world (and the table), food writer James Brennan writes the following about the tradition of serving saviyaan on Eid;

Pakistani and Bangladeshi households all over the world will celebrate with a comforting bowl of seviyan kheer. The desert has its origins in Mughal cuisine, and combines roasted vermicelli with condensed milk, cardamom, pistachios, saffron and ghee, and can be served either hot or cold with a decoration of silver leaf. Seviyan may appear in various guises at Eid: sheer khurma adds dates and cashew nuts to the mix, while meethi seviyan omits the milk, but has all the other ingredients.

Generally, fresh ripened dates, dry dates and various nuts are used in the making of saviyaan.

The Edible Magazine featured a great story on Eid and the importance of dates, it stated;

*Eating dates at dusk is as old as Ramazan itself. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is said to have ended his own fast with the fruit, which is among the sweetest on Earth. This sugary morsel gives any fasting observer a quick boost of energy, a few dates at the end of a long day of fasting quickly helps revitalize mind and body. Therefore, it is no wonder that after a month of intense focus and fasting, much of the celebration food on Eid morning is in the form of desserts laden with dates.’

Traditionally, saviyaan is made with vermicelli, a very fine kind of spaghetti. It is cooked using a small amount of milk, dates, and adding a variety of dry fruits to make it a truly rich and aromatic dessert. Saviyaan and Sheer Khurma is a customary Muslim festive breakfast or dessert dish and is served to family and friends to show hospitality and joy on this happy occasion.

The Oxford companion of sugar and sweets by Sidney Mintz, Michael Krondl, Eric Rath, Laura Mason, Geraldine Quinzio and Ursula Heinzelmann says the following about Eid desserts in Pakistan;

The end of Ramazan, called Eid Al-Fitr, is celebrated with such desserts as sewiyan (vermicelli pudding) and the similar sheer khurma, vermicelli cooked in thickened, sweetened milk with nuts and raisins. Another traditional festive dish is zarda, a sweet, saffron color rice pilaf, made with rice, thickened milk, sugar and nuts, and flavored with rose water.

The Eid fiesta brings with it sublime food flavours. After a month of strict abstinence, Eid-ul-Fitr is associated with feasting and would not be complete without the saviyaan and its abundance. The recipe I share with you today comes from Shazli auntie’s kitchen. It is delicious, quick and makes for a delightfully sweet Eid morning.

Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)

2 cups of vermicelli, crushed roughly
2 ½ cups or full crème milk
¾ cups sugar, or to taste
2 to 3 tbsp. butter (or more for a richer dessert)
10 to 12 green cardamoms
6 dried dates (chopped lengthwise)
¾ cup (pistachios, almonds, cashews, raisins)
Pinch of salt

Method

Heat butter, gradually adding vermicelli and then roast on low heat for a few minutes.

Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan roast nuts, dates and cardamom, adding milk, sugar, salt, and cook until milk dries. Serve hot or cold.