City Food – Habshi Halwa, Ballimaran
The black sweetmeat.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Don’t mind the slur, it’s sweet. The name of this dessert is politically incorrect. Habshi is the Urdu equivalent of Negro.
“The halwa is as kaala (black) as a habshi,” says Firoz Ahmed, a portly man sitting behind the glass counter at Haneef Doodhwalla, a mithai shop. Ahmed’s father, Haji Mohammed Haneef, founded it in 1948 in a dark alley in Ballimaran. It’s a Shahjahanabad neighborhood lined with stores selling made-in-China shades and Agra-made shoes. The area is noted for being the final address of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.
While it also sells buffalo milk and yogurt, Haneef Doodhwalla is best known for habshi halwa, a sticky sweetmeat made in the less hot season, from October to March.
Boiling milk for 8 hours in giant cauldrons until it is reduced to a black mess, the halwa is prepared over firewood. It has desi ghee (clarified butter), maida (refined flour), samnak (sprouted wheat), sugar, kewra (rose essence), zafran (saffron) and crushed dried fruit like almonds, cashew and pistachio.
Said to heat up the body, habshi halwa is recommended for men wanting to increase their stamina in love-making.
Most Shahjahanabad men The Delhi Walla talked to say Haneef Doodhwalla makes the town’s best habshi halwa. According to Ahmed, his father’s childhood was spent as a kitchen boy in the house of Mohammed Deen Chatrriwalle, a wealthy Punjabi Muslim family that migrated to Shahjahanabad from Multan (now in Pakistan) in the 18th century. Their community settled in a gated neighbourhood in Ballimaran, now Punjabi Phatak.
The Chattriwalles showed gratitude to Haneef’s services by helping him set up a paan stall in Haveli Hisamuddin, just inside the entrance of Punjabi Phatak gateway. He later turned the stall into a dairy.
Today, Haneef’s four sons live in what was once the house of the Chattriwalles, who had moved to south Delhi.
The cardboard mithai boxes of Haneef Doodhwalla show an illustration of a ghantaghar (clock tower). The tower in Chandni Chowk was destroyed by fire in the 1940s. Nearby was the halwai shop of a certain Abdul Khaliq, under whom Haneef learned habshi halwa making. After partition, while Khaliq migrated to Karachi in Pakistan, Haneef stayed back. The ghantagar on the box is Haneef’s tribute to his ustad (master).
In 1992, Haneef died; he was buried in the Dilli Gate graveyard. The family business has been expanded by his sons to include guesthouses and retail stores. They have not abandoned their father’s calling. In the winter, 50 kg habshi halwa is sold everyday. Priced at Rs 320 per kilo, the cardamom-flavoured halwa is gooey, rich and – as they say – potent.
Where 368, Haveli Hisamuddin, Punjabi Phatak, Ballimaran Time 6.30 am to midnight Nearest Metro station Chawri Bazaar
A sweet landmark
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The pride of Ballimaran
In the blood
Just off the racks
Available in other places too