Delhi was, is, and will always be unique, even when it comes to the flavor of the food, and its culinary traditions, particularly mithai. The political history of the city has largely influenced its social life, and that includes the native cuisine. Eating sweets has traditionally been a sign of wealth. The amirs (nobles) and the baniyas (merchant) ate, and served mithai as a matter of course.
### The Base Sets Delhi Sweets Apart
Even now, serving halwa puri is a must during festivities. However, the puri (deep fat fried roundel of flour or wheat flour) that is eaten for breakfast is called nagori, and is small and hard like a mathri. The halwa is made of semolina or sooji, cooked in ghee, and garnished liberally with dry fruits.
The mithais came to be laden with ghee and dry fruits, or were prepared from a base of dry fruits as a symbol of kingliness. Ghee, dry fruits, and a base of almost anything, except milk products, are a peculiarity of the mithai that are distinctively Delhi. Grated coconut, besan (gram flour), wheat flour, mashed dry fruits — any of these might be used as a base.
### The Celebrated Delhi Mithai
Some of the celebrated mithais of Delhi are balushahi, pista lauj, badam lauj, sohan halwa (popularized by Chenaram), bharwan parmal, moong daal burfi, and sohan halwa tikia. (Biting this last one can be quite a challenge, but you can always use it to crack someone’s head, if need be!)
Pista lauj and badam lauj (made of mashed pistachios and almonds respectively, and sweetened with sugar) are soft, halwa-type sweetmeats in UP. In Delhi, they are served more like sweet rolls — a smaller version of the Bengali patishapta, with a different stuffing. The Karachi halwa is very soft (but slightly stickjawy), swimming in ghee, and generously sprinkled with dry fruits.
### Necessity Is the Mother of Invention
The other commonly used base of Delhi’s mithai is khoya or dried milk. In the medieval period, there was no system for refrigerating milk, and people would boil the milk repeatedly to preserve it.
The net result was that it would gradually dry. People learnt to sweeten the resultant khoya (as it came to be called), and prepare squares or diamond shaped sweets called burfis.
Standard Sweets in Karol Bagh specializes in burfis, and if you find yourself in that area don’t pass up on the chance to savor them.
Trust the Delhiites to make the most of everything. After making rabri, and certain kinds of halwa, there is quite a bit of sweet, dried milk sticking to the kadhai (a round-bottomed frying pan, rather like a wok).
This was scraped and put together to be served as a sweet dish called Khurchan, along with ghiya lachchha which is often served as an accompaniment of sweets like rabri.
### The Imperial Elephant’s Favorite Sweet Shop
The way Ghantewala came by its name has a quaint story behind it. When the imperial processions went past, the elephant on which the Mughal emperor was seated was fed sweets at a specific sweet shop. The elephant would shake its head from side to side, making the bell tied to its neck ring.
The ringing of the bell was a signal to the sweet-maker to come and offer sweets to the elephant. Thus, he came to be known as Ghantewala.
Annapurna Sweets, Chenaram, Kanwarjee, and Ghantewala are some of the most famous quality sweetmeat shops in Delhi. They have been around for more than a century — some longer — and old-timers hold to it buckle and thong that the delicacies have lost nothing by way of taste and flavor.
If milk-based sweets are your favorite, Bengali sweets should tempt you as no other. Annapurna and Bengali Sweets of the Gole Market serve up some of the all-time favorites like ras malai, sandesh etc. The original location of Annapurna’s shop was the fountain near the gurudwara. It shifted to its present location when it grew in popularity and needed more space.
### The Mathur Specialty — Kesar Pak
The Mathurs have their own special dishes. Mention must be made of the kesar pak, a prime favorite of the Mathurs (who can be considered the original Delhiites). It is made of grated coconut, ghee, sugar, and saffron, sometimes generously sprinkled with dry fruits. No function — marriages, birthdays, god bharai — is complete without this sweet dish for the Mathurs.
For Holi, the gunjiya they make is a dry one, and not dipped in syrup as it is in other parts of India. Further, the stuffing they put into it is different, inasmuch they use khoya which has been lightly stir-fried in ghee. In other parts of India, sweetened, grated coconut is used as stuffing.
### Don’t Live to Repent
Delhi’s laddoo is proverbial — jo khaaya woh pachhtaya, jo nahi khaaya woh bhi pachhtaaya (one who eats it, repents. Those who don’t eat, also repent!) Since time immemorial, the richness and “health that melth in the mouth” quality of Delhi’s laddoos have been lauded. You need to be in Old Delhi to be able to relish this confection of besan (gram flour), ghee, dried fruits, and sugar.
Yet, the boondi laddoo has always been considered the sweetmeat of the poor. Though many people will cavil at this addition; there is one thing that is both sweet and typical of Delhi — lassi malai maarke — the sweet, icy, curd and syrup drink, with a generous dollop of fresh cream to crown it.
**Author **:-Kalopna Moitra
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