We all love old photographs. My favorite is one in which I, my mom, and my two sisters, along with a maid servant, are seen hovering around an open fire on our terrace. My mom has something in her hand with which she is stirring something in a large iron wok. There is a big bowl with a sort of white paste and an open tin of ghee on one side. It is a scene that depicts Dashain and Tihar in a different way, but one that is common among many households around the country. My mom is making selroti, and we are all there to enjoy watching the artistry of their making.
As anyone who has tried his/her hand at making one will agree, making the perfect selroti is no easy matter. But, it is an art that has been honed to perfection by many women, and an art that many others would like to be more adept at. This is because the selroti is the food that is most on display during this festive season, and all women would naturally like to be proud of their creation.Many households will be offering selroti not only to deusi and bhailo groups, along with cash, but also to all guests visiting their homes. And, of course, selroti is the highlight among all the delicious foods (dry fruit, sweetmeats, curd, meat and fish delicacies, etc.) that sisters present to their brothers during Bhai Tika, the last day of Tihar.
Going back to the afore mentioned photograph, you can see that the tin contains pure ghee, a fact from which you can glean that our family fortunes were having a better run at the time, since not many people can afford to make a lot of selrotis with pure ghee. A 20-liter tin, by god! Those were the days, my friend. Anyway, selroti, while having the singular honor of being the bread that binds hearts together, and the prima donna of Tihar, is but one out of many different kinds of bread made by the ‘culinary-ly’ sophisticated community of Newars.
If you are interested, do visit the mari (beread) pasals in MaruTole near Hanuman Dhoka, all of which are still probably run by Rajkarnikars, who have been the traditional makers of mari and sweetmeats in Kathmandu since times immemorial. You’ll find a dozen or more varieties of maris here, which include fini, puri, rodh, khajur, aainthi, aanti, Punjabi, khasta, gajur, etc., and of course, selroti.
And, for those interested, here’s how you can make selroti:
- First, you got to soak rice overnight.
- Next day, you drain out the water and put the soaked rice in a mixer grinder along with ghee and sugar.
- Then, grind the mix until it becomes an even paste (if the batter is too squishy, add some rice flour for consistency). Making the perfectly consistent batter is the key to making the perfect selroti.
- Now, cut the top of a plastic bottle to drop the batter (you can also use a half-coconut shell or a piece of sturdy cloth with a hole in the middle)
- By this time, you will already have oil sizzling in the wok, okay?
- Now, drop the batter in the hot oil, making as round a circle as you can. It will help if you are of artistic bent. The more skillful use a pair of sticks to ensure that the selroti is perfectly round in shape.
- Finally, sit back and watch your creation sizzle and fry until it is rich golden brown in color. The texture, if perfectly made, will turn out to be slightly rough to the touch, and the crispiness depends on how much ghee you have added when making the batter, as also, how well you have fried it.
Footnote: Day before yesterday, I was at the Newari mari pasal in my locality, which I visit regularly, especially for its delicious jeri and samosas. I asked the fat lady at the counter for a couple of hot samosas that I thought her husband was making, as usual, bent as he was over the familiar iron wok. Hearing my request, he turned to stare at me, and exclaimed, “Samosas? Are you crazy? I’m too busy making selrotis!”