Rest in peace.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the cat from mewing with a juicy bone. It’s dead, it’s dead. The iconic Mughal-era mithai shop Ghantewala in Chandni Chowk has shut down. Born in 1790, the shop died in 2015. The shop was making losses – said the shop’s owner to The Times of India.
This is also a personal loss to The Delhi Walla. The mouth-shattering motichoor laddus of Ghantewala graced the cover of my book The Delhi Walla: Food+Drink. Ghantewala was also famous for its sohan halwa. I present you for the last time the motichoor laddu of our much loved Ghantewala:
It is the sweet of the gods. On Tuesdays, Hindus offer Hanuman boondi laddu, made of deep-fried besan balls held together with flavoured sugar syrup. The pot-bellied Ganesha, the god of writers, is known as modak-priya, the one who loves modak, Sanskrit for laddu.
While Swiss chocolates have begun to be in vogue as Diwali presents, the boxes of good old boondi laddu haven’t gone out of fashion yet. Be it your daughter’s engagement, your wife’s birthday, or your son’s first job, any happy occasion that demands ‘mooh meetha karao’ (sweeten the mouth), is an occasion for boondi laddu to be distributed. In Bollywood potboilers, the widowed mother of the hero makes him boondi laddu when he returns from his unjustified incarceration in jail.
There is no one single place to have the best boondi laddu in Delhi. The syrup used in different shops is flavoured with different ingredients, such as saffron, cardamom, cloves and rose water. In the tea stalls of the city’s slums, glass jars are filled with laddu whose round boondis are thick, coarse and dry, but delicious.
In upscale mithai shops such as the Haldiram outlets or Evergreen Sweets in Green Park Market, the boondi laddu is sold in a version called motichoor, literally meaning crushed pearls. This is because the boondis in it are very small, juicy and soft, and the ladoo crushes if held too hard.
In the historic Ghantewala Halwai sweet shop in Chandni Chowk (since 1790), the motichoor laddu comes close to perfection. Made in desi ghee and garnished with melon seed, it dissolves the moment it is popped into the mouth.
Slipped out of its paper case, the centre never holds – the boondis fall apart, and you end up feeling thankful to the gods for such sweetness clutched in your palm.
The world of Ghantewala
5a. (Sohan Halwa)