Is Jethalal's favourite sweetmeat Jalebi Indian or an import from West Asia?
Is Jethalal's favourite sweetmeat Jalebi Indian or an import from West Asia?

The longest-running sitcom on TV 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah' is filled with stereotypical characters of each language, caste and religion. The show reinforces gender stereotypes and promotes sexism in the name of comedy. However, this piece isn't a rant about the harmful nature of the sitcom but about a very specific sweetmeat which makes repeated appearances on the show.

The main protagonist in 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah' is Jethalal, a Gujarati middle-aged man who is the owner of 'Gada Electronics', has a weird yet hilarious wife and trouble comes knocking on his doors in every episode. Not to mention he has a mammoth crush on his "modern" Bengali neighbour. I have to specifically bring up the native places of these characters is because even after 12 years the makers keep on reminding us of the same.

I've watched this show since its inception and as a teenager had a habit to turn on the channel every time I needed my daily dose of laughter. I've stopped watching it after I realised the troublesome parts of it. Nevertheless, the show keeps one entertained.

In the show, Jethalal's favourite breakfast is 'Jalebi and Fafda'. He goes to great lengths to grab a bite of this delicious snack. He also becomes extremely unhappy when the nearby stores run out on these delicacies. Watching Jethalal and his antics, I was always of the opinion that 'Jalebi' is a Gujarati sweet. Little did I know that it was an import from West Asia. Yes, 'Jalebi' isn't an Indian sweet. It was brought to our shores by Turkish and Persian traders in the medieval times.

The oldest reference of 'Jalebi' can be found in the 13th-century Persian cookbook titled, 'Kitab al-Tabeekh' by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi. It is mentioned as 'Zalabiya' with its origin in West Asia. The sweetmeat was traditionally distributed among the masses during Ramadan and other festivities.

'Jalebi' was reportedly introduced to Indian cuisine in the 15th century. The first Indian text with a reference to the sweet was a famous Jain scripture called Priyamkarnrpakatha (1450 CE) penned by author Jinasura. Later, in 1600 CE, the Sanskrit text, Gunyagunabodhini, enlists the ingredients and its recipe which is similar to the present-day sweetmeat. Bhojana Kutuhala – another 16th-century book of recipes and food science by Raghunath also has its mention.

Over the years, different variants of the dessert are gorged in India. From the 'Mawa Jalebi' of Madhya Pradesh to the 'Imarti' or 'Jhangiri' of Andhra Pradesh, named after the Mughal emperor Jahangir, the sweetmeat has become an integral part of the Indian cuisine.

I've watched local jalebi vendors squeezing the batter containing refined flour, saffron and cardamom, in concentric circles through a muslin cloth. They are fried golden-brown and then transferred into the sugar syrup. Served with chilled rabri, 'jalebi' is nothing less than tasting heaven.

Meanwhile, a Twitter user on Sunday pointed out the history of 'jalebi'. "Jalebi sweet brought by Muslims in India. Jalebi word derived from Arabic word Zalabiya. In Persian, it is Zalibiya. It popular Indian sweet. Muslim brought food items: Chapati making art, Kulfi, Gulkand, Gulabjambu, Jalebi, Pulav, Faluda, Barafi, Biranj, Murabbo, Halavo, Shiro, Shakkarpara (sic)," he tweeted.

This tweet caused a huge uproar on the microblogging site, with many lashing out at the Twitter user. "Try and say this openly in Gujarat and see what happens! Spreading fictitious lies," a Twitter user commented. "Absurdity. Jalebi and Imarti were known much before Mughals," said another user.

Well, we don't have the machine to travel back in time and find out if the Turkish and Persian traders really gave India their 'Zalabiya'. We can certainly do is rely on the books written in those times. Besides, who cares about the origin of the dish for it satiates our sweet tooth!

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal