Snacks in India have a unique place of their own. In fact, an entire dedicated denomination of ‘Indian cuisine’ can be made which does not mean readymade packets of chips, biscuits or fries but a lot more. It is fascinating to note that there are so many meal dishes that we Indians are already quite famous for. It is known that we take quite a lot of effort and our ‘ghar ka khaana’, maybe simple, but definitely not quick or instant. Now, think about samosas, kachoris or dhoklas. These take effort and time to make and yet, they are only snacks. However, there are other types of snacks that can be stored for months and devoured from our ‘dabbas’ when we feel hungry in the evenings. These are the various mixtures of sev, chewda and muri.
Made from rice, corn and various cereals, these variations last much longer and are far more durable. One such humble component that we use very often in snacks is puffed rice. Puffed rice has a history of usage in India and is made not only into snacking items, but also in many parts offered in temples and prayers.
How is it made?
There are many ways of making and using puffed rice. For example, what we call as Muri, in Philippines it is used in Ampaw and Twibap in Korea. It is also known as rice krispies in various chocolate bars by different companies. The form and method vary though they all come under the classification of puffed rice.
Indian puffed rice or muri is traditionally made by heating the rice grains in an oven filled with sand. Like popcorn comes from come, the muri comes from rice. The rice within the grain blows up due to the reaction of starch and moisture and the rice grains are heated either with or without oil. There is also another method known as gun puffing to make puffed rice. However, most people give credit to Alexander. P. Anderson who discovered puffing while he was experimenting.
Puffed rice is called muri or mudhi in West Bengal and Odisha, murmura or mumra in Gujarat and Laja in Sanskrit. It is also known as porri or arsi porri.
In the southern states, such as Tamil Nadu puffed rice is used in various religious and social ceremonies. For example, during marriage the puffed rice is offered to Agni or the fire as Lajahoma. Lajahoma was offered, as per mythology, during Shiv and Parvati’s wedding too.
In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the puffed rice is offered to God and Goddesses during all pujas or prayers. In fact, pilgrims to the famous Sabrimala pack puffed rice with jaggery as an offering.
Muri is used to prepare plenty of snacks and dishes. It also can be eaten on its own and is usually preferred by little children who are still learning how to eat. It is a perfect snack for them, light on the stomach and easy to eat.
However, it is best known to be used in bhel puri. This lip smacking dish is a favorite street snack. Mixed with potatoes, tomatoes, tamarind pulp and peanuts the bhel puri is a well-known snack all over India.
Similarly, street food of Kolkata is quite incomplete without the mention of jhalmuri. In many ways similar to bhel puri, jhalmuri is a distinct Bengal roadside snack that has its own distinguished flavor and style of serving. Filled to the brim in small paper bags, the jhalmuri is an iconic street food of Bengal.
In Telangana, as well as in many other parts of India, the puffed rice is converted into a ball mixed with jaggery. It is a healthy snack, again especially for children. In many areas of Andhra and Karnataka, the steamed puffed rice is eaten with fried fritters or bajjis.
In Odisha, in the northern districts, mudhi is also eaten during breakfast and is part of the popular Mudhi Mansa, a chicken dish prepared with mudhi.
Known as parmal in Madhya Pradesh, muri is used as snacks along with sev and in bhel. In the Mithila region muri or murhi, as they call it, is eaten with fried potatoes, onions or with mutton and fish.
The Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology is working to get mudhi registered under GI or Geographical Indication. Also, the government has decided to keep mudhi amongst the 12 traditional foods that will be launched globally under the Make in India initiative.
The muri, however, remains a simple food item that is healthy when compared to the modern junk foods available in the market. Its simplicity lies in its adaptability, where it can be enjoyed in its spicy, bland or sweet variations.