It looked like a tangled mess, those sawayyan; vermicelli, lying in a mound in the silver-gilt rim white porcelain dish on Eid morning in Nani Ami’s home. Next to it lay dainty matching bowls with silver spoons, a large carafe of fresh, raw milk, a sugar bowl and several bowls of dried nuts, slivered, whole and crushed to a dust-something for everyone’s preferences in the family.
My maternal grandparents- Nani Ami and Daddy
As soon as my maternal Uncles and grandfather returned from their Eid prayers it was time for tucking into Nani Ami’s sawayyan– a vermicelli pudding typically made in many households in Pakistan to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Nani Ami would scoop up the sawayyan with her fork and plonk them into my bowl.
Then she’d add some of that warm, raw milk- the smell of which is undeniably creamy and fresh. And the tangles of vermicelli would come undone, mingling with the milk. When it was time to add the sugar, I had to take over from Nani Ami. I’d sprinkle the sawayyan with one, two, three teaspoons of sugar, and then twirl my spoon in it and watch the sugar melt into the warm milk.
The best part was dusting the sawayyan with neon-green crushed pistachios and adding pinches of crunchy almond slivers.
That amorphous mass of vermicelli was transformed, as if by alchemy, into a creamy, carb-rich, sweet pudding. This was the taste of Eid in my grandmother’s home. I still remember those days in Lahore, in the dining room, sitting around the table with my Ami and the rest of the family, watching my Uncles and grandfather in their perfectly starched white kameez shalwars, slurping the sawayyan down, just like me. Except I am pretty sure I was the only one who had sweetened milk running down my chin with each greedy bite.
Last night, for Eid, Ami prepared her version of Afghan sawayyan, similar to the way they are prepared in my Baba’s home.
Afghan version of sawayyan with chandi ka varak; edible silver leaf- Shir Khurma
But today we were missing my Nani Ami and craving her Punjabi-version of the same dish. We called my maternal Uncle, Mamoo M, (aka, ‘Bruto’- I am ‘Bruta’ to him) in Pakistan at 1am. We needed to know how Nani Ami made this dish, we had already failed with one batch of vermicelli. Half-asleep, he relayed the recipe to us- and Ami got it just right. My Unc’ really is the best.
Spoonfuls of it transported me right back to that dining room in Lahore at my Nani Ami’s home on Sunderdas Road, near the canal with the weeping willow trees.
As soon as my husband comes home from work, we’ll be devouring both versions of the dish- my Nani Ami’s and Mader’s. What better Eid can there be with two puddings, made in honour of my two grandmothers?
Eid Mubarik to everyone.
There really isn’t a set recipe for this- you should add as much milk and sugar to the dish as you like, and then adorn it with the dried nuts you love.
*1 packet 120g sawayyan or vermicelli bought in a Pakistani or Indian grocery store
*milk, warm or cold- suited to your taste
*dried, unsalted nuts of your choice
*crushed cardamom seeds
*Place a large pot of water on the stove and when it comes to a boil, add vermicelli (don’t add in stages, it must all cook together).
*Remove after 20 seconds (test for doneness first) and strain immediately.
*Transfer to a dish.
*Serve alongside warm or cold milk with sugar on the side, crushed nuts and cardamom seed powder.