Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sel-Roti -Fried Rice Bread - (सेल-रोटि)

Sel-Roti - Deep-Fried Rice Flour Bread  - (सेल-रोटि)
Sel-Roti does not need any introduction in Nepali cuisine -- it is one of the most "uniquely Nepali" dishes, a sweet rice bread, distinct from any other breads of the world.  Sel-Roti resembles a large thin puffed-up doughnut and has a crispy texture with reddish brown color.  It is prepared by grinding soaked rice to create a thick batter.  It is then mixed with sugar, clarified butter, mashed banana, water, poured into bubbling oil and deep-fried.  It is a popular as a festive bread for many different occasions.

 Traditional Nepali cooks grind the soaked rice in a heavy rectangular stone mortar and pestle (silauto-baccha), which produces a perfectly texture batter, because it provides the right pressure while grinding.  These days people grind the rice in a blender for convenience.  Traditional versions of Sel-Roti require the batter to be deep-fried in a pure clarified butter (gheu),  but now vegetable oil has replaced gheu for a lighter version of Sel

Sel-Roti is always prepared during the Nepali religious festivals of Dashai and Tihaar and for other special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and family celebrations.  It is also prepared as a sacred food for the gods (naivedya) and offered ritualistically to deities.  Sel is distributed among friends and family as a blessed food (prashaad).

The following recipe is handed down from a centuries old tradition.  Here's what you need to make small-size (10-12 pieces) Sel-Roti

Ingredients - 3 cups of white rice, 1 medium very ripe banana, peeled and mashed, 1 cup sugar, or to taste, 3/4 cup unsalted melted butter or clarified butter (gheu), 1/2 cup rice flour, as needed, 4/5 cups of vegetable oil for deep-frying.  

Start by soaking the rice at least 4 hours or overnight.  Drain and place in a blender or food processor with the banana, sugar, butter and process, adding up to 1 1/2 cups of water to make a semi-thick puree.  You may have to do this in two batches.  

Remove the batter and place in a mixing bowl and beat with hand vigorously to make it fluffy semi-thick smooth batter.  Cover and set aside to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.  

When the batter is well rested, mix it  again with your hand until all the ingredients in the batter are fully mixed - this process is called "peenako chaamal lai beskaree faaune" in Nepali.  The consistency should be similar to thick pourable heavy cream.  If the batter is too runny, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of rice flour and mix well.  If it seems too thick, gradually add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and mix well.  

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot (350 to 375 degree).  Test the readiness by placing a small drop of batter into the hot oil.  If it bubbles and rises to the surface immediately, it is ready.  

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the oil slowly, making a large circle.  You can use your hand, or a squeezable paper or plastic cup or a pastry bag with a medium-size opening to pour the batter.  Stretch and move the batter using a spoon or a thick wooden sticks (khaptero) to create  round shape.  As the Sel-Roti puffs and rises, push it into the oil with the back of a spoon until it is light golden brown.  Flip and fry the second side until brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the batter. 

Sel-Roti is delicious by itself, but can also be served with plain yogurt, fried vegetables, and Nepali radish or cucumber pickles.  Sel tastes best when it is fresh; it becomes somewhat chewy and tough the next day, although it still tastes good this way. It is a non-perishable bread, and can be kept at room temperature for more than a week.
My early morning walk through busy shopping area of Indra Chowk and the crowded street of Ason Tole towards Bhotahiti Galli (old town of Kathmandu) - there were fruit vendors and fresh local produce freshly brought from the nearby farms.  I came across at least four different road side stands and the street vendors were busy preparing fresh Sel-Roti made to order. The size of the Sel-Roti is small - perfect for breakfast or a quick snack.
I saw a woman in front of Jana Bahal temple (Seto Machhendranath),  busy preparing Sel-Roti.  She is surrounded by a karahi full of bubbling oil, gas-lit stove and a big bowl of rice flower batter.   I asked her if I can watch and capture some pictures.  She said, "these are really easy to make.... just watch me."  She also added that people are always talking about her Sel-Roti and the morning crowd were waiting for her deep-fried rice flour rings to savor as a breakfast food.  She passes me a tiny hand-made wicker stool to sit and observe the cooking process.
The batter of Sel was assembled ahead of time (probably last night) as she has already began to make the bread at 6 am in the morning.  She uses her hand to collect the batter, then holds close to the bubbling oil, and pours into the hot oil in a circular motion to create several small rings.  She uses her wooden stick to stretch and move the frying batter into a perfect circle.
  The batter puffs up and rises as it cooks.  She pushes it into the oil frequently with the back of a spoon. 
... when one side is golden brown, she flips the second side and let it cook until golden.
 ... removing the fried bread carefully with a thick wooden stick and letting the extra oil drip back in the oil before transferring into a large aluminum bowl.
The size of the above Sel-Roti is much smaller compared to the traditional ones, as they are used for early morning breakfast with freshly boiled milky tea.  The woman gives me a freshly fried bread and tells me in Nepali, "Tato tato sel khaanuhos, didi" (translation - eat this while it is warm and crispy).  It was so delicious that I had to ask her for some more.
Making Sel-Roti may appear straightforward, but there are several tricks to make it perfect.  While frying the bread,  keep the temperature constant for even cooking. If the oil is too hot, the batter will brown too quickly and the insides may remain undercooked and doughy.  If the oil is not hot enough, the batter will absorb a lot of oil.  Before adding another batch of batter, the temperature should be adjusted.  The right amount of clarified butter in the batter (gheu) helps to make Sel-Roti light buttery-crisp.  

Check frequently for the right consistency and texture of the batter.  The sugar content in the batter makes a difference, as too much sugar will make extra crispy and brittle Sel-Roti.  The shape of the pan is equally important - heavy frying pan is preferred and should be deep enough for the bread to float easily.  Too less oil in the pan will make a flat and sunken Sel-Roti.  One has to get used to pouring the batter into the hot oil, always go close to the oil and use slow and steady motion.
This photo is taken at the most famous local sweet shop at Maru Tole, Kathmandu, named Shree Purna Ashok Bhandar.  The sweet shop staff is showing me a copper kitchen equipment specially made to pour the batter to prepare the bread.  First, he places a finger at the bottom opening and fills the batter on top.  When ready, he removes his finger from the plugged hole, and allow the batter to fall directly into the bubbling oil in a circular motion to create perfect Sel-Roti.  
Alternately, you can use many other equipment to pour the batter in the oil. Many cooks prefer to use half of a coconut shell with a hole on the middle to pour the batter.  Some use reusable pastry bag (piping bag) made out of heavy thick cloth with the opening at the bottom end.  The batter is filled in the cloth, then squeezed and pressed through the hole to shape the Sel-Roti.  Some prefer leaf plates (Tapari - Bota) to squeeze the batter into the hot oil or even inexpensive squeezable large bottle with a opening is used.
In the next block almost near the Annapurna Temple, Ason Tole, another Sel-Roti is being fried.  Two women have set up a road side snack stall and are carefully placing the batter in the hot oil to make several small Sel-Roti for breakfast delights.
Everyone is enjoying the warm, and freshly cooked Sel-Roti...
The above  Sel-Roti is being prepared for Nepali Mother's day celebration, "Aamaa ko Mukh Herne Din - Maata Tirtha Ausi". It can be served as a snack food, breakfast food, casual and unannounced visitor of a guest, and for a social and religious gatherings.
These are some of the video teaching demonstration (step-by-step) on how to make Sel Roti. Here is  "Roshni Prashai's 16 minute video with English subtitles," click here to watch.  "Mom making Sel-Roti in a wood burning stove," click here to watch the video.  Another "Traditional Nepalese Sel-Roti (Crispy Rice Donuts) & Potato Pickles (16 minutes - in Nepali), please click here to watch the video.  Join Sita as she cooks Sel Roti - a delicacy made with rice and sugar - for the great Nepali celebration of the Tihar festival. The Sel-Roti is unique to Nepal and has become an iconic symbol of Nepali culture and festivities.  Click here to watch the video.

And finally, here are home-made Sel-Roti from my kitchen.....Remember the best result takes practice....  these are best enjoyed the day they are made!

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  1. I want some now. All the photos makes me hungry for sel roti..

  2. I have just found your blog and it is wonderful. I actually bought your book a few months ago as I love love love Nepalese food! I look forward to reading more x

    1. Thank you Fran for your kind words. I am working on my next blog and please stop by again to take a pictorial tour of the Traditional Sweets of Nepal, mainly in images...

  3. Your recipe is a hit. I came very close to how it tasted in Nepal. I'll buy your book eventually. Thanks.

  4. namaskar Jyoti!!!
    first of all, congratulations for your blog!! It is full of nepali flavor, awesome recipes and great energy!!
    While reading this entry i went back again to the Kathmandú streets, sitting on a chair with a hot dut chia and sel roti!!What a wonderfull way to start the day!!

    Thanks for the recipe. For sure i will try it!!


  5. Thanks a lot for this beautiful article......

  6. You wrote it so well with all the little details. Thank You so much. It was very helpful and pleasant to read. Happy Tihar to you and your family:)

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    1. I do not know why are you advertising your sweet shop in "Taste of Nepal" blog?

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  13. Where can we get it in Dehi?
    I've tried C R park markets but couldn't get it. Neither in any menu of the restaurants here.

  14. Can we use milk instead of water? And can we skip adding mashed banana to the batter?

    1. Yes it's your wish depending on what taste you want.

  15. You have been doing great work tilll now.

    I expect something special from your side for Visit Nepal2020

    Please let us know about what you're doing.
    Thank you!
    Sushant Ranabhat from

  16. Thank you for your wonderful instructions. loved your article. It was really helpful for my business.
    Wish to see more in coming days.