Bite this! Festivals and the Sweet Haryanvi
The palate is pretty simple.
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The trailer of Dangal, featuring the story of the formidable Phogat sisters from Bhiwani, is out just ahead of Diwali but otherwise the season is not, shall we say, sweetest for Haryana when it comes to competitive sweets.
Of all the cuisine diversity we are privileged to have and enjoy as Indians, Haryana’s contribution perhaps equals a grand zero in the department of packaged sweets the rest of the country can enjoy.
Maharashtra has modak, fights break out between Tamils and Kannada over who can lay claim to the delicious Mysore pak. Bengalis boast of rasgullas and gulab jamun besides the creamy sandesh. Mathura can lay claim to the divine peda. But Haryanvis don't have the culture of packaged sweets they can take credit for.
Of course all sweets are available all the time, just at the short distance of the neighbourhood sweet shop, and other celebrations in Haryana such as wedding functions will see the whole gamut of spreads from across the nation, along with the traditional glass of milk which is also on offer as a “sweet dish” (to which I have seen quite a many relatives add hot jalebi and proclaim to have tasted heaven), but people tend to go traditional at festival time.
What are the sweets a traditional Haryana household will get for consumption and distribution at a puja and for exchange between family and friends? Boondi laddoo and besan laddoo remain the favourites – but laddoo and its variations – from coconut to chocolate and even the haryanvi goond laddoo – is a cross-country sweet dish.
Even other sweets popular across Haryana are appropriated from neighbourhoods - ghewar is credited to have originated from nearby Rajasthan and the vegetable-based translucent petha is said to have originated from Shah Jahan’s kitchens in Agra.Perhaps it is the Haryanvi lack of sophistication that the basic meal has not evolved to include other items.
Dhodha, the brown coloured modest looking but rich sweet, another favourite in sweet shops in Haryana, is the claim of Khushab in Pakistan. The mik-based sweet dish is said to have been the creation of a Hindu wrestler called Hans Raj who began to market it as a commercial product, but when he moved to India after Partition, the story goes, he gifted the recipe to Khushab sweet-makers who added other ingredients like dry fruits and made it the local speciality.
But perhaps owing to milk – the undisputed queen of food and drink of the Haryanvi -- as the basic ingredient, it is greatly popular across the state.
In the old temple by the well and under the trees in the village of my late maternal grandfather, a farmer, the prasad handed out is batashas, little and large uneven drops of sugar rush that I associate with home way into adulthood, and also found in my mother’s puja room on festive occasions.
The tale goes that my late paternal grandfather, an Army man who fought two wars, would carry home-made shakkarparas, little hard sugar coated Indian “donuts”, made by his wife (though this last romantic sounding detail could be an embellishment of family memory) to the battlefield because they gave a quick energy rush in the bunker and were easy to slip into the pockets and reach for and pop into the mouth. But both of these sweets, while traditional, also belong to the subcontinent.
Haryanvi food is traditionally simple though nutritious food of an agrarian community – a daal with a spoonful of ghee in it for extra taste and a sabzi, along with perhaps a green or red chutney, is had with rotis, also generously lathered with ghee or butter, and chaas.
Perhaps it is the Haryanvi lack of sophistication that the basic meal has not evolved to include other items, or perhaps it is just the Haryanvi taste buds – I remember that as children when we attended a lunch or dinner party with lavish spreads, my brother would still pick one curry-dish and accompanying daal or chawal to put on his plate.
When a hospitable aunt would inquire why his plate didn’t reflect the variety on offer, he replied: “Too many tastes confuse my palate.”
The company found this amusing, but it has stayed with me – I realise even I tend to do this, and for the same reason.
The desire for palate clarity could also probably explain why even Rajasthan has daal-bhati-churma on the plate in one meal, while Haryana, while also laying equal claim to the churma – a simple but heavenly dish of roti, sugar and ghee which Haryanvi wrestlers have as part of daily diet and credit their strength to – does not offer it on the same plate but separately as a full breakfast dish or as an after-meal sweet dish.
Kheer, another favourite in Haryanvi homes, is again common to all Indian cultures, as is gul gule, the sweet fried dough also called malpua and pua.
Halwa is popular, but the popularity of the delicious gurdwara kada prasad oil-soaked atta halwa means it is more associated with Punjab than Haryana.
Though we do have other after-meal sweet dishes like meethe chawal (sweet rice), this is again a home-made and simple recipe like the churma - to be made by the loving hands of a nani who’ll add an extra spoonful of ghee for you, and consumed in the kitchen or table – and not a packaged sweet to gift and keep home for visitors and sell to the world as our sweet contribution to the rest of the country, or world.
However this is by no means is an underestimation of the lure of the omnipresent boondi and besan ladoo – the all-time traditional all-India favourite that Haryana also enjoys, exchanges and shares at festival time.