Thursday, January 23, 2020


Seviyan, Iddiyappam - India’s answer to pasta & noodles
Friday, 02 August, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Harpal Singh
Rice has been a staple food across the globe, mainly in the Asian continent. Rice is also known to be one of the most ancient cereals. Etymologically rice is derived from the old French word ‘ris’ which is derived from Greek word ‘Oruza.’

Rice has a special place across the cultures of the world. Rice symbolises purity, prosperity and spiritual sanctity. Rice is said to be grown as wild grass in a once land mass called Gondwana land around 10 million years ago, when the land mass split up into Asia and Africa, the rice also split up into Asian and African rice.

The Indian wild rice varieties have been called as ‘Nivara’ in Sanskrit. According to Dr Om Prakash, author of the book Food and Drinks of Ancient India, rice is not mentioned in Rig Veda but in Yajur Veda, there are five varieties mentioned. In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, rice is mentioned to be cooked in water or milk.

Rice is also said to be eaten with curd, sesame, ghee, ‘mung beans’ and ‘meat.’ There is mention of parched rice as well as chipped rice, known as ‘Prthuka’ or ‘chivda’ in the ancient texts. In the ancient texts the summer rice was called ‘Grashmukha’ Or ‘Shashtika,’ the rainy rice was called ‘Varshika’ and ‘Vrihi’, the autumn rice was called ‘Sharada,’ and the winter rice was called as ‘Haimanthaka,’ ‘Hayavana’ or the highly praised ‘Shali.’ The ‘Shali’ rice had three varieties ‘Raktashali’ or red in colour, ‘Kalama Shali’ which was hard white in colour and highly flavoured, and then was the most exotic variety of ‘Shali’ rice, the ‘Mahashali’ found only in the Magadha region. This rice was large bean sized and possessing great aroma and shine.

Rice preparations in ancient India
There were many sweets and savoury preparations made using rice in ancient India. ‘Shusurta,’ the father of surgery in ancient India, mentions ‘Vishyandaka,’ ghee-fried rice to which milk and molasses are added making a medium thick liquidy preparation. ‘Utraika’ another preparation of similar kind was made using rice flour. ‘Pupalika’ a cake of rice flour was made, centered with honey or mung beans paste and cooked in ghee. The Manasollasa, a 12th century text, mentions rice preparations mixed with milk, fried in ghee, and coated in sugar to get ‘Kshira-Prakara.’

Ordinary boiled rice would be elevated to feats by dressing it with pappads, crisp pumpkin peels, grated coconuts, lime juice, tamarind with asafoetida cooked in oil, or roasted urad dal. In Kannada literature ‘Puri-Vilangayi’ is mentioned which is a roasted rice and mung dal preparation that is spiced and flavoured with camphor, then rolled into marble sized balls using rice flour and finally deep fried before serving. There is mention of another preparation where eggplant is fried with coarsely ground rice to which chopped onions are added and this is then filled in turmeric leaves. In the south India, rice evolved to various foods like idli, idiyappam, varieties of pancakes, sweet preparation and much more.

Pasta and noodles

The history of pasta is difficult to trace for several reasons. The word pasta is generally used to describe traditional Italian noodles, which differentiates it from other types of noodles around the world.

Historically it is believed that pasta is likely to be the descendant of ancient Asian noodles. As per popular belief, pasta was brought to Italy from China by traveller Marco Polo during his travel in 1271.  In his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, there is a passage that briefly mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour. The Chinese used this plant to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal, Polo mentioned, was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as “lagana” (lasagna). Pasta was gaining much popularity in the 13th century in Italy.

India also had local variants of pastas. Whether pasta really travelled to China from India is a matter of research. In India, seviyan or vermicelli is the most popular version of pasta. It is a traditional type of pasta similar to spaghetti. This seviyan is relished in almost every part of the country, right from north to the south, and east to the west.

Seviyan is also popular during the Id festival, seviyan is cooked in milk and assorted nuts are added along with sugar., It also has a dry version, where the dessert is made by frying the noodles in ghee, adding syrup and nuts. Seviyan, be it dry or cooked in milk, is one of the most delicious desserts that cannot be missed.

Other than dessert, seviyan is also made into savoury upma.  For seviyan upma, vermicelli is roasted in ghee, then tempered with mustard, curry leaves and the chana dal and then along with salt and powdered spices it is cooked with water. That’s the savoury breakfast snack relished in parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Then, you have the Falooda—the glutinous strands that come with kulfi, or just as a cold dessert dunked in syrup. A take on the vermicelli, Falooda can be traced back to faloodeh of Persian cuisine, a frozen dessert of thin vermicelli made from frozen corn starch, rose water, lime juice and pistachios.

Idiyappam- Indian rice noodles
Moving down south, we have Indian version of rice noodles known as Idiyappam. Idiyappam are fresh steamed fine rice noodles, that are traditionally made with rice batter. Rice is soaked and ground to fine paste and this batter is mixed with salt and a tablespoon of oil and cooked over a stove to remove all the water. It is stirred constantly while cooking so that no lumps form. After a few minutes of cooking, the batter thickens and comes together into a ball of soft dough. It is cooled and then filled in a wooden or metal press with many small holes at the bottom. The noodles are squeezed out in a circular pattern on to a steamer plate with tiny holes at the bottom lined with clean wet cloth and steamed for five to six minutes. Alternately the soft cooked dough is steamed first and then the noodles are squeezed out using the press.  

India has always been a culinary treasure, and there are so many dishes that have actually originated in India then travelled to other parts of the world. Rice is certainly a very important part of Indian cuisine, and there are many delicacies made with rice. when it comes to noodles and pastas, India has its own versions.

Rice in rituals
The Chinese believe that if young women leave grains of rice on their plate, each rice grain will become acne scar on their future husband’s face. The Japanese believe that soaking rice before cooking releases the life energy and grants the diner a more powerful soul. The emperor celebrates a ceremony that gives rice to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, symbolising the salvation of mankind. In Indonesia, the bride is chosen only if she can cook rice well.

Rice also took a significant place in Indian rituals and culture. Rice is used as ‘Ashtak’ in the rituals and worship of the gods. Raw rice is sprinkled to gods as a means of offering and worship, in the rituals sprinkling of rice marks as a means of blessing. In wedding rituals, rice is sprinkled as blessing of prosperity to the newly wed. Rice is also used as ‘Ahuti’ offering in the sacrificial fire. During Annaprashana or first feeding of the baby, rice in form of kheer is fed to the baby.

Story of Goddess Annapurna
Rice is also synonymous with anna or food; there is an interesting story of Goddess Annapurna, Indian goddess of food. Once Lord Shiva and Parvati were playing dice and Shiva lost his trident, snake, and everything he possessed. And feeling humiliated went to meet Lord Vishnu, who explained why things were not working for Lord Shiva and asked to play the game again, now Lord Shiva started winning back everything. Goddess Parvati perceived Lord Shiva to be cheating and in anger disappeared from there. Her disappearance led the nature to a standstill and scarcity of food, infertile land and drought and famine condition. The gods and humans prayed to goddess to be merciful, being compassionate, the goddess started distributing food in Kashi, realising his mistake even Shiva appeared there with his begging bowl and goddess gave him alms, in the form of grains of rice. Since then Goddess Parvati is worshipped as Goddess Annapurna.

(Singh is celebrity chef, writer and entrepreneur. He can be contacted at
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