“Why is it called Habshi?” I ask.
Mohammed Shaan breaks into a smile when I point at the dark, sticky squares stacked up on a paraat. Curiously named ‘habshi halwa’, because of its colour, this grainy sweet is quite a winter favourite. “It is kaala, just like a habshi,” he says referring to a colloquial term for dark-skinned, or black people. It may not be the most politically correct term for a sweet, but Habshi halwa is rather popular in the walled city, and one of the hot-selling items at Kallan Sweets near Jama Masjid, especially in the months between October and March. To prepare this century-old recipe, Kallan’s has ‘karigar’ from the kitchens of Rampur—karigar in Hindi refers to craftsmen and the cooks who carry on the legacy of the khansamas of yore who were creating nothing short of art.
Shaan is a fourth generation managing Kallan sweets in Matia Mahal of Old Delhi, the shop is around the corner from the bustling gate number one of Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India built by Shahjahan in the 18th century. His great-grandfather Kallan mia, started with selling local sweet treats in 1939. The shop is now known for Habshi Halwa, Shahi Tukda and Sohan Halwa, among other sweets that await buyers.
Usually a winter speciality, Habshi halwa is now popular all year round. “It is popular because it is a takatwar (potent) halwa,” says Shaan, listing the chief ingredients--malted wheat (sabnak, says Shaan), milk, sugar ghee, refined flour and edible gum. The milk solids are separated and mixed with sugar and stirred on a slow flame which caramalises the sugar, imparting it the dark brown colour. The sprouted wheat is ground to a paste and then cooked for over four hours along with the milk and sugar. “We add cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and Kesar to temper the flavor,” adds Shaan. The natural resin in the edible gum changes the texture to make it sticky and goey.
In winter season as Old Delhi bustles with food stalls and curious food walkers, Habshi halwa is consumed hot, polished off steel plates right as it is served. Chilly and sunny afternoons send people scurrying outside for some piping hot kachoris, kebabs and winter specials like Gond ka Halwa and Moong Dal Halwa, but Habshi remains a favourite throughout the year.
Where: Kallan Sweets, Matia Mahal, 9811417432
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