The twist of tradition: On murukku, a Deepavali staple

Graphic: K.B. Jawaharr  

Every year, an age-old stainless steel drum heralds the arrival of Deepavali in our household. A couple of days before the big day, the drum is emptied of all its earthly possessions, scrubbed clean and put out to dry in the sun. It will hold the most important component that defines Deepavali for our family — the murukku. My mother would fill it up to the brim with the golden-hued snack on the eve of the festival. The entire lot will be polished off in less than 10 days after it.

The murukku holds within its twists and turns years of history. A snack that originated in Tamil Nadu, ‘murukku’ means ‘to twist’ in Tamil. It is made from semi-solid dough, which primarily consists of rice that’s deep fried once it is passed through a murukku-maker.

Manapparai, a town in Tiruchi district, is famous for the snack — The Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology has even applied for a Geographical Indication tag for it.

Every household has its own murukku tradition. At ours, the yearly ritual starts weeks ahead of Deepavali, when my mother purchases the right par-boiled rice variety from the wholesale market downtown. The murukku’s colour, she would say, depends on the quality of the rice used. She soaks it for three hours before running it through a wet grinder with three or four red chillies. Roasted gram powder is sieved and added along with salt, jeera, and a pinch of asafoetida.

The murukku-maker, a handheld instrument made of rosewood and brass, is extracted, dusted and set aside. Part of my mother’s wedding seedhanam (gifts), it consists of two sections. One has a cylindrical hollow with a brass base that bears small holes.

The other has a smaller cylinder that fits into the hollow — this squishes out the dough through the openings in the base. She says a carpenter from Karaikudi was summoned to craft it under the watchful eye of my grandmother.

Although murukku contains, at the most, five ingredients, it’s not easy to make. For, that perfect murukku depends on a lot of factors, the most important being the kai pakkuvam (deftness of hand) of the maker. Legend has it that the colour of the snack depends on the maker’s disposition. If he/she is in a bad mood, the batch that leaves their kadai (wok) takes a deep-brown, hard texture.

Back home, we add a scoop of butter to the dough so that the deep-fried coils crumble the moment they meet teeth. The dough, once the spices are added, smells sweeter than the end product — the fragrance permeates the household from the kitchen. For us, Deepavali begins just then, when the bowlfuls of creamy murukku dough stand on the kitchen counter, that has been cleared of everything else but the stove and an old white dhoti spread at one end.

Mother would scoop a handful of the dough into the murukku-maker and press it over the dhoti — she’d spin palm-sized flowers of off-white dough that coil one upon another.

The cloth is employed to absorb some of the moisture.

The dough flowers are flipped on the back of a karandi (perforated ladle) and are dropped one-by-one into a kadai of hot gingelly oil. The last bits of dough that don’t fit into the murukku-maker are rolled and fried as seedai (another crunchy savoury).

By the time the whole batch is done, the entire household is munching on warm murukku. But mother, she doesn’t touch them; not one.

It perhaps is the case with anyone who spends the day standing in front of hot oil for hours, frying the Deepavali delicacies. In the end, she would say, “We’re never doing this next year!” But, religiously, she repeats the process year after year. She would ask: “What’s Deepavali without murukku?”

Get the crunch right

Step 1: Wash and soak two measures of par-boiled rice for three hours and grind in a wet-grinder with red chillies as per requirement. To this, add one measure of sieved pottukadalai (roasted gram) powder, a spoonful of butter, salt, a sprinkle of asafoetida powder, and jeera/ajwain or omam/sesame seeds.

Mix the dough well with hand and set aside

Step 2: In a murukku maker (available in kitchenware shops), scoop a handful of the dough

Step 3: Press it over a greased flat surface or plantain leaf to form small circles

Step 4: The dough circles are extremely soft; carefully flip one on the backside of a perforated ladle

Step 5: Deep-fry the murukkus till they are golden-hued

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 6:48:26 AM |

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