Saturday, March 14, 2015

Of Jalebis and Imarti

Imarti at Haldiram'sAnother day dawns in one of the small towns and villages that dot the North Indian Gangetic plains.  Roosters crow in the distance as the faint morning light begins to permeate the early morning mists.  You can see smoke beginning to waft from dozens of stoves along the winding streets and alleys as local halwais open shop and get ready for the day.  Many of these early morning confectioners and sweet-makers specialize in just one sweet that is ubiquitous in small-town North India during this time of the day: the jalebi.

Like I had written earlier, flour-based sweets came into India from the Middle-East. The jalebi in India is only a variant of the Zulabiya found in Iran and its neighbourhood.  No matter what its origin, once this sweet entered our shores it was quickly taken in, adopted and treasured as one of our own!

Indian Jalebi

Jalebis tend to made in the same fashion in the Indian subcontinent with only minor variations.  A batter made of refined flour is fermented overnight and then fried in hot oil and soaked in a sugar syrup.   The distinctive form of a jebeli is created while the halwai swirls the batter into the hot oil.  Everyone has their own favourite kind of jalebis.  I like my soft and a little tangy in the centre but with a crisp exterior fried in ghee while others like it crisp all the way.

Jalebi Making, Halwai

Making Jalebis

Interestingly, the Middle East has evolved these sugar-soaked fritters into other sweets with rather evocative names. For example, there is one shaped like a ping-pong ball and called Luqam al-Qadi, or the Judge’s Morsel.   There are others called the Virgin’s Breasts and Zainab’s Fingers (after a queen) that have nut centers and cream fillings!

Jalebi at Bareilly

Back in India, there is another sweet that is frequently confused with the Jalebi. The Imarti, one of my favourite sweets, looks similar to a Jalebi but has several differences. For one, the flour used to make this is from Urad Dal.  Also, the batter is not fermented before frying.  Finally, the shape is different too.  An Imarti is a much more organized with a circular, flower-shaped pattern.  It is less sticky and softer on the palate than a Jalebi.

Imarti at Haldiram's

The Imarti is popular in southern parts of India too.  From my childhood days in Mysore, I remember this sweet used to be called Jahangiri.  If you are passing through Delhi, drop into one of the Haldiram restaurants to sample a well-made version of this sweet deliciousness.

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