It usually happens. In the midst of a crisis, humans turn to life-affirming activities. This is why there are so many couples choosing to get married despite all the pandemic-related regulations and restrictions. Some may even say it’s a good time to have a wedding so that you can actually limit the guest list to those closest to you whom you want at the nuptials! But, be it 50 guests or 500, there’s something at an Indian wedding that you just can’t do without — the sweets to do ‘mooh meetha’ with. Auspicious for sure and certainly celebratory, mithai makes every occasion extra special.
The traditional ones vary from region to region across India. But the one staple, from north to south, rich or poor, is the laddoo. These globules of goodness often go out with the wedding invitation, greet the bride and groom’s entourage and guests, and are most definitely witness to the actual ceremony. Traditionally made with ghee, roasted or fried powdered grains, and jaggery or sugar, laddoos rule the roost when it comes to weddings. And while modern-day guests may be more circumspect about eating too many of them, a friend once told me how villages in rural Bihar once had designated ‘laddoo eaters’ whose sole job at a wedding was to gobble kilos of them at a time! Apparently, representing the groom’s side, they would lay the gauntlet for the bride’s side to feed their insatiable appetite (and perhaps ego!). The challenge would be accepted and fulfilled until the eaters lay down with distended tummies bursting with laddoos.
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Now, of course, people are getting pickier about the calories and ingredients they ingest. And this has extended to laddoos as well. There’s been a revival of sorts, with a throwback to the healthier ones as ancient physician Sushruta reportedly prescribed to his patients in the fourth century BC. His were like the popular til laddoos one enjoys on Sankranti — made with white or black sesame seeds, jaggery, honey, and peanuts — and packing a punch in terms of energy and nutrition.
So, you have pedigreed sweet shops such as Khauwale Patankar, the pride of Pune’s Sadashiv Peth since 1950, reinventing the laddoo for today’s times. The next generation branding of Khauwala and Co thanks to the next generation of the family-owned enterprise keeps the laddoos safe and the laddoo eater even safer. Offering protein laddoos and whole-grain and seven-grain ones for the fitness conscious, a sugar-free range in ragi for diabetics, they take Sushruta’s premise of a laddoo for every need to a whole new level.
Innovation is the name of the game. Like at the Bombay Sweet Shop (by the same team as The Bombay Canteen) in Byculla, which purports to ‘bring back the magic of mithai’, they add coffee to Mysore paak, chocolate to patisa, and fill pedas with strawberry jam and Bailey’s cream!
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They even make a Ferrero Rocker laddoo, which is basically the quintessential favourite besan laddoo coated in toasted hazelnuts. Their Sweets Library not only has items that are gluten-free, nut-free and even lactose-free, but also a newly introduced range of Cheat Sweets without refined sugar that, I think, will help make it easier for me to keep my New Year resolution of making healthier choices. Their wholly vegan power barfi is a delicious bite of jaggery, dates, cashews, almonds, pistachios, coconut sugar, figs, a seed mix (sesame, poppy, and melon), puffed amaranth, and cardamom powder. Their very fancy chocolate khubani peda, gluten and nut-free, features two layers of dark chocolate peda (with the added advantage of no added sugar) sandwiching chopped apricots and garnished with blue cornflower and edible gold dust.
Meanwhile, I found that the brand-new sweet shop, Meetha in Radisson Goregaon, has a host of decadent delights too. I was happy to see old faves like Bikaneri barfi, motichoor boondi laddoo and the energy-rich dink laddoos, made with edible gum and famously fed to expectant mothers to give them a nutritious boost.
And then they have incredibly innovative ones such as the red velvet cheese laddoo and a muesli pistachio bar. But the one I went gaga for was their rose petal gulkand laddoo, with fragrant rose petals encasing a creamy interior that had the deeply satisfying rose jam called gulkand, which all of us have grown up savouring. It tasted so luxurious and yet so pure, so unique and yet so familiar, so traditional and yet so modern.
In a way, it seemed just like post-pandemic weddings. Refined and restrained on the whole, and yet truly indulgent in a more individualistic way.
(The columnist is Associate Editor, TravelDine, and a bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)