Making jalEbis

January 5, 2010

This is for (a) my non-Indian friends, but it’s for (b) my Indian friends too…jalEbis, as (b) and many of (a) know, are sweets, made of flour batter that has been fermented, fried and then dunked into hot sugar syrup. Which of us have not fallen for the jalebis at weddings, hot off the syrup kadAi….?

At DakshiNEshwar, in Kolkata, Geetanjali and I had just finished having bhAdEr chA (tea in those special mud pots…its taste is unique), singhAdA (the Bengali samOsA) and heengEr kochudi (kachOris made with asafoetida as an ingredient)…birdwatchers, these are the “endemics” of the Bengali snacks world!….. when I realized I could record the making of this delicacy.

The circular motion with which the halwAee (sweet-maker) starts looks as if he is stirring the batter…but if you notice closely, he’s actually filling up a vessel which has a hole in its bottom (please, no dirty comments at this stage!)

Then, he positions the vessel over the hot kadAi (large wok-like vessel) and, extremely skilfully starts making the series of circles, in a spiral fashion, ending up in the middle of the oil. The batter is extremely slippery in the oil and when L-boards (er, you can guess one example of a person unskilled in this…yours truly) and can make terrible lumps and tangled squiggles…’s NOT as easy as this halwaii makes it seem! Of course I could say that with daily practice I would also be as good….but that would be not true, I think!

At the end of the video, you can see him using the perforated ladle to turn over the earlier batch of jilebis, which is soaking in the hot sugar syrup (to his left.)

Jilebis (or jalebis, as you wish to call them) are one sweet that is no longer made at home, for the most part. In the south, we have a variant of this, called “jAngri”..the word is derived from “jahAngiri” from Mughal times! This sweet, too, is made the same way, but is substantially thicker and the batter is not fermented, and for some reason, is now generally bright orange in colour, as opposed to the golden yellow-to-orange variation for jilebi.

(many of the south Indian sweets have names derived from Mughal times…“pAdushAh” is derived from “bAdshAhi”!… interesting sideline that I am not going to follow right now…)

Oh, yes, we went back to Geetanjali’s in-laws’ place bearing some of the hot jilebis! And you can be sure that some of it is now smiling back at me from my waist and hip, when I look at the mirror….