Indian streets and cities have many a tale to tell and many unheard untold food stories and discovering them is what brings great joy and pride. It sometimes also brings a slight sadness, a sadness born out of realising our own ignorance…..ignorance of our strength and our history and of the culinary skills that we as a society and culture posess. One such skill that we possess is confection.
In a world obsessed with the fine art of patisserie we sometimes forget that “khand” or rock sugar, is as old as 800 BC in India and sugarcane chewing and the use of sugarcane juice is mentioned in the Samhitas. Now let’s take our sweet conversation to two cities – Lucknow and Hyderabad. While my serious Interest in pastry is a decade old, I have always been obsessed with marzipan and fondant work. As somebody who sculpts and moulds the ability of almonds and sugar to transform into works of art has always amazed me.
In my recent visit to Hyderabad looking for some old recipes I had the good fortune of dining at and cooking with some really awesome cooks. One such cook was a 80-something Badi Bi of the Nizami lineage who promised to show me something I had never seen and I jumped at the idea. What I saw was the most beautiful display of marzipan flowers and the best part was each marzipan was flavored with the same flower it was shaped Into. Rose, jasmine… she had it all. Badi bi doesn’t know marzipan but she knows Badam Ki Asharfi and her grandmother had started this art of turning the asharfi mix into these flowers around 70 years ago, passed it down to her and here I had travelled the world, looking to learn from the best marzipan artists!!! I went numb and then I felt joy, pride and sadness for myself. The joy of discovery, proud of being Indian and sadness at being obsessed with ‘phoren’. So much to see, so much to learn….
I grew up in Lucknow and winter was my favourite season only because of the sudden Influx of “gajjak” and “rewri”( besides the fact that schools would close because of excessive fog!!). It was till much later that I went to the small by-lanes of Charbagh to see rewri making being done and found it very fascinating how sugar just transfomed in 15 minutes from crystals to rewris.
The workers have been toiling in immense heat in these workshops that are close to a hundred years old pulling sugar at 150+ degrees and deftly working to create more than 300 kgs of magic a day. While most of these kaarigars have been friends with sugar for more than three decades we are busy glorifying sugar artists from the west. Next time in Meerut or Lucknow, do stop by a rewri maker and smile and who knows he might deftly sugarpull a “rewri rose” in a flash and give you a food memory for life :)…
Badam Ki Jali
375 gms almonds
250 gms Caster sugar
Silver paper as required
1/2 cup milk
1. Remove the skin of almonds, grind it to a powder.
2. In one pan, add almond powder and caster sugar and cook on low flame, add drops of milk until it takes the shape of a dough.
3. Now roll it out and cut out shapes using a cookie cutter.Decorate with silver paper, cover one cut piece with another to make a ‘jali’.
4. Roast on a frying pan on low flame. Badam ki jali is ready.