Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Desserts and places

I’ve been on a constant eating binge since Diwali, a couple of weeks ago (and that’s a reason for not blogging much. Honestly). This thanksgiving was spent consuming unimaginably large quantities of food, with tons of sweets and desserts thrown in. And somewhere over the past few weeks, we drove by the little Czech town of West, Texas, and gorged on their famous kolache (which were rather good, I must add) (note: kolache itself is a plural word, so “kolaches” would be incorrect, though people popularly use kolaches as a plural for kolac). That, and a visit to one of the large Indian sweet stores here somehow led to a discussion on Indian sweets, and places in India that were famous for their sweets.

The insatiable sweet and dessert gourmand in me was delighted with the travels through Indian dessert land.

As far as Mysore pak goes, the name automatically and correctly suggests Mysore as the origin, and there are terrific Mysore paks to be had there, but I would argue that they can be just as good in Bangalore, or in Coimbatore’s Sri Krishna sweets. But there’s another uniquely Kannadiga sweet called Chiroti, flakey, layered and ideally eaten soaked in almond-milk. Bangalore and Mysore rule for this.

When it came to the delicious, milky peda, we were evenly split on our verdict. I’m partial to the tiny, dark Dharwad pedas that melt in the mouth, but the strong claim to supremacy from Mathura’s pedas could not be easily brushed aside.

Some sweets are almost synonymous with towns or cities in India. Apart from the just mentioned Mysore pak, there are the super-saccharine pethas from Agra (which I never really fancied). The little town of Tirunelvelli in Tamil Nadu is probably best known for its unique halva, quite different from the more common types of halva (such as those made out of semolina or carrots) found across India. Laddus (ladoos) are perhaps the most popular sweet across India. While I don’t particularly fancy them, the laddus from Tirupathi have made it to song and legend. On the other hand, a trip to Uttar Pradesh just to sample my favorite mothichur laddos there is long overdue. Some day I hope to complete a UP-laddu pilgrimage, starting at Haridwar, and steadily working my way across UP, through Muzafarnagar, Lucknow and finally to Kanpur’s Thaggu ke laddu.

While still in UP, I’ve been told by authoritative sources that the best gulab jamuns in the world are to be found in a little Podunk town in UP called Orai. In fact, as far as I can tell, this is the only claim to fame of this town, at least according to the omniscient wikipedia.

Sweet sojourns in India cannot be complete without indulging in Bengali sweets. There are two things that remain etched in my memory from numerous childhood visits to Calcutta (Kolkata); incredibly slow trams, and absolutely delicious varieties of Sandesh. And if you want to really go off the beaten Indian dessert track, go to Hyderabad and eat the absolutely sublime double ka meetha.

For some classic Indian sweets, we were hard pressed to say if some places were better known for them than others. I’ve had terrific jalebis in many places, as well as their South Indian counterparts, jangris, and cannot think of any place that can stake a claim on them. There are special types of kheer that each region claims to make better than others. And while the best Shrikhand I’ve had was in Pune, I’m sure a good chunk of Maharashtra and Gujarat will claim to make better Shrikhand.

I’m many of you guys have favorite desserts not just from India, but from across the world (a Florentine colleague told me Fritelle di riso was to die for, so I made it a point to eat some when I visited Florence some years ago).

Go ahead, educate me so that we can plan our next dream holiday accordingly.


CuriousCat said...

How come badhusha did not feature in your list? and chakkarai pongal? (grand sweets in adayar for the former and the Anjaneyar koil in Nanganallur for the latter, what say?)

Soultan of Swing said...

Sunil, I dont think it's a wise idea reading your blog first thing in the morning. You have me salivating over the sweets and ruminating over a similar long overdue foodie post of my own!

Anonymous said...

Melkote (near Mysore and the place where Sri Ramanujacharya spent his last years) had sweets to die for. Their laddoos are superb and I think better than the tirupati ones (though they are both supposed to be prasadam, so this is probably blasphemy :)).

Fëanor said...

If you are ever in London, I would encourage you to check out the superb peranakan food at Nyonya restaurant, where the subtle blend of Chinese and Malay has resulted in the wonderful kui, a delicately sweet rice layered cake, redolent of halwa. Yum, I say. :-) I haven't seen its like in the States, but this restaurant has been an eye (and mouth)-opener, heheh. Each time I went, these dessert offerings were different and flavourful. (The main courses are pretty decent, too). Bon appetit!

Sunil said...

curiouscat....I've long been curious about the origins of badushah. I think it is south Indian (it is most popular in the south), and I'm guessing someone either in the Nizams kitchens or in the kitchens of the nawab of Arcot must have come up with it. That said, I think grand sweets is highly overrated. To me most of their products have only been above average, though too many people in madras swear by it. :-)

Bala....any post about food can only be a good one.

vkrishna......the only blasphemy is if someone makes bad food (particularly desserts), and you don't say it is bad.

feanor.....while I've eaten a decent amount of malay food, and tons of chinese food, I don't remember eating any peranakan food, even on visits to Singapore. That should be next on my list now. I'll try to fly singapore airlines the next time I fly to India, and try to stop over and find some of these goodies there. A trip to the UK seems more unlikely :-)

Nahida Sunil said...

Chanced on your blog and enjoyed your post on indian mithai. Hyderabad's Qubani ka Mitha (Made of apricots) is really, really yum! And the desserts in Corner House, Bangalore are rightly famed!

Anonymous said...

Came here through Pri's link on DP.

Talking about Pedas, did u get a chance to taste Dharwad Peda?
For that matter, some Tulu sweets are also unique and extra tasty! :)

Anonymous said...

Hydie's Double ka meetha, Shaahi gulab are also worth mentioning!