August 12, 2010 at 12:58 am
My siblings and I had our first bite of crispy, crunchy muruku when we visited our nanny Letchumi’s family during the Indian celebration of Deepavali when we were really little; I was just starting school, my sister was in kindergarten and our brother was little more than a toddler – with really sharp little teeth.
There were lots of other snacks and sweets but we only remembered the muruku. It looked really interesting, My siblings and I didn’t call it muruku back then – we called it “mosquito coil”.
Strange as it is to be associating food with something as toxic as mosquito poison, but to us children, its spiral shape was a whole lot like the mosquito coil that families back in the 1970-s lit up in the evenings to keep mosquitos away. So, mosquito coil it was for a few years until we learnt how to say “muruku”.
Now that my siblings and I can say “muruku”, we shall have to learn the various other names of specific types of muruku. There are so many types, depending on the types of flour used, the shape, spiciness and the ingredients. Some look like spiralling coils, some like bits of noodles while others look like really small, slim elongated star fruit or even just simple rectangles. Some are made of the usual flour, others of ground dhall beans and wheat flour; but all are flavoured with spices and some with chilli. Muruku is usually savoury and slightly salty, but depending on the person who makes it, the same type of muruku can sometimes taste a little bland.
Muruku is the Indian equivalent to the American potato chips and the Mexican tortilla and corn chips, except that you don’t need to eat it with dips – it tastes really good on its own and locals like it with beer.
Because Chinese people didn’t know how to make muruku back then, and the supermarkets didn’t sell them, we only had muruku when our Indian friends gave them to us during Deepavali, but nowadays everyone can get muruku anytime – at the stalls and restaurants in Little India and in the supermarkets which sell them pre-packed. Sometimes when there is an important celebration at an Indian temple, there will be muruku stalls outside the temple, which adds to the air of festivity. Tesco has some really nice pre-packed muruku at a great price but nothing beats the fresh ones sold by the roadside stalls in Little India.
My mother found this neat little stall at the corner of King Street and Market Street in Penang’s Little India. It sells several types of muruku, nuts, Indian candy and confectionary from huge transparent plastic bags. Muruku should always be crispy and crunchy; they should be stored in airtight containers or if they are in plastic packaging, tied up with a rubber band when not being eaten. So, knowing this and just looking at the huge bags of muruku this stall has, you can be sure that they have very good business because their stuff is always fresh and tasty; everything is nicely salty, not overly so, but just right.
The stall operators are polite and friendly, and you can ask to try a little of their muruku or nuts before buying, especially if you are from abroad. We have taken many of our foreign friends to this stall, and they like the muruku. It is an affordable snack, tasty and light, and it does fill you up quite a bit, too.
The mark of good muruku? Dry and just slightly oily, and of course, it makes you want more.