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The beauty of India is that even marquee festivals take on different meanings as you traverse its vastness. My first Diwali or Deepavali as its better known here, in Chennai was a tad uneventful. I didn’t dodge pesky teenagers dropping ‘bomb-crackers’ from balconies nor did I need a respirator the next morning.
The festival of light, celebrated in Chennai to mark the slaying of the demon Narakasura, isn’t an over-the-top affair. Pattasu (firecrackers) are restricted to open grounds and scrupled with bedtime curfews. It’s marked by the ritual of Ganga Snanam, a slightly far-fetched term for an early bath post anointment with gingelly-oil, and colourful Kollams and Nalangu.
And there’s food, of course. While the tradition of mundane dry fruit boxes is catching up fast, my favourite bit about Chennai’s Deepavali remains its sea of South Indian savouries, especially Murukku. Murukku derives from the Tamil meaning for ‘by twisting’, a nod to the wristwork that weaves layers of rice flour (sometimes mixed with dals like urad) dough through a mould into the oil. You might confuse it with Chakli, which also adds Bengal-gram flour. However, Murukku is just a general category and there many different varieties worth getting fat for:
Kai Murukkus look like elegant sanguine laces gracefully arranged in concentric circles. Painstakingly made by hand, it is a traditional wedding snack served to the groom’s family at Tamil weddings. The number of circles (a minimum of five) is said to indicate lavishness.
Manapparai Mullu Murukku’s jagged layers (Mullu means ‘thorny’) seem to accentuate its crispy rice-flour body laced with jeera. This Murukku from the town of Manapparai is so renowned that the Tamil Nadu government has applied for a Geographical indication tag.
Butter Murukkus include butter in the dough and are sometimes made without layering. They’re fried in oil anyway so don’t mind the added calories.
Chettinadu Thekuzhal Mullu is a Karaikudi speciality. These are smaller Murukkus which are tightly packed, sometimes into a ball-like pattern. Thenkuzhal sort-of translates to ‘flutes of honey’ and these amber hued little devils are perfect for popping down the gullet.
Perhaps the most visually striking are the intricate Achu Murkku, also called Rail Murukku or Rose Cookie. It is pressed into a flower-like pattern and traditionally includes an egg in the dough for distinctive cookie-like aroma and flavour.
Wondering where to buy these Murukkus? Well, I have made it easy for you.
A no-brainer is Grand Sweets, with many outlets across the city and even an online store. Sri Krishna Sweets is also widely available, though justly more renowned for their Mysurpa, but that is another story. Neighbourhood stores like Srivari Sweets in Anna Nagar, Sri Ramana Kai Murkku Centre & Venakteshwara Boli Stall in West Mambalam and Suswaad in T Nagar are solid contenders for the crown of Murukku kings!
Happy Deepavali from Chennai!