Originally started as a Roman dessert around the second century BC and taken to its glory by the Ottoman Empire, if there’s one festive sweet that crosses all cultural frontiers and political boundaries, it has to be the Baklava.
Right from Greece where baklava takes a Christian connotation (made with 33 dough layers, referring to the years of Christ’s life.) to the Balkans, where , besides being a popular dessert. It is also made specially by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr, and by Christians during Pascha and Christmas.Called Pakhlava in Armenia and Azerbaijan, it’s spiced with cinnamon and cloves it gets accompanied by a sour cream in Georgia. In Iran, a drier version of baklava is cooked and presented in smaller diamond-shaped cuts flavoured with rose water.
The cities of Yazd and Qazvin are famous for their baklava, which is widely distributed in Iran. It’s this rose scented Iranain version that took me to Bhindi Bazaar (yes that’s right, right here in Mumbai!!).
The history drenched lanes of this market have many a folklore in its folds in the Imamvaara lane off the main street an old obscure shop that only opens once a year at the time of the Equinox (around the 21st March) for a month to celebrate the Irani and Parsi new year has its own stories to tell. Opened in 1909 by Haji Golam Ali in a shop that he bought for Rs 30 and with the dry fruits that he had gotten along was where Haji saab started by selling only baklava and Lauz to celebrate Navroz. His son Haji Mohd Ali continued the tradition and handed it over to Haji Mohd Hassan Hajati (Irani) who continues to run the space out of pure passion with his help Maksood who has been doing this with him for the last 15 years.
This shop is a pilgrimage for every Irani and Parsi family in Mumbai. 55 now, “Iraani” saab as he is affectionately called still uses the wood-fired oven that his grandfather built and the “Thaalas” that are traditionally used for baklava, the biggest thaala can take a 100 kgs of baklava at a time!! Next time you go there do try lifting the empty big thaala once and if you succeed do let me know how you did it….
Iraani saab puts two layers of pastry at the bottom and three on top and in between that he puts hand ground nuts drenched with artisan honey and immense passion (either of which he as a vast amount of that you have to see and believe); the divine stroke for me is the Persian rose extract that gives this baklava a soothing after-taste. The handmade pastry is not super fluffy giving it a good bite. Well if you are from Mumbai, you had till April 15 to make this pilgrimage to Bhindi Bazaar because Iraani saab is gone for a year… and did I mention the pista Lauz yet … Well discover it for yourself….