City Food – White Carrot Halwa, Sheeren Bhawan
An unusual version of the same dish.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Winter means carrot halwa, means colour red.
Not always. There is at least one place in Delhi that sells carrot halwa, which is not red. It is white.
You may taste this extraordinarily unusual cold weather delicacy at Sheeren Bhawan in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk. The congested market is crammed with a range of edible heritage (Diamond Bakery, Shaberati Nihari Wale, etc). This mithai shop, too, is as iconic. One of the oldest surviving culinary landmarks in the Walled City, it was established long before Partition by a gentleman called Fayazuddin, whose descendants continue to thrive in a sprawling house within walking distance of the shop, in Pahari Rajaan.
This evening, the glass display by the entrance is filled with sweet-tasting distractions (khoya kadam, chocolate burfi…) The star attraction though is atop the counter. A gigantic platter is perched on a burner, filled with what looks like a mound of crushed snow that has been shallow-fried to a pale golden shade. Steam is silently escaping from the surface. This is the enigmatic white carrot halwa. Sprinkled generously with kaaju and pista, shop attendant Mr Mateen is stirring the prized dish frequently with a heavy ladle.
Seated on a chair, the founder’s great-grandson Adnan Qureshi confirms that the white carrot is not a fairytale legend, and that it exists for real. He calls it sunheri gaajar (golden carrot). “These are not easily available… we commission them from a farm in Ghaziabad.”
Handing over a bowl of the halwa (60 rupees, 100 grams), Mr Qureshi asserts that it is made in pure desi ghee by Sheeren Bhawan’s chief cook, the “exceptionally skilled” Ustad Suger Singh Tomar. Incidentally, this gentleman, presiding over the kitchen of the famous Old Delhi landmark, is not a native of Delhi, but of Morena in Madhya Pradesh (see photo).
It is possible that a first-timer to the white carrot halwa might feel uneasy about the confection. After all, one’s most cherished memories of this dessert are made of its universally recognisable red version. But one bite of the white halwa, as made in this Chitli Qabar establishment, might temper your loyalty towards the red. The halwa is supremely delicious, very rich, and so aromatic that you may end up feeling heady and happy. A must-try, it will last until the end of February, following which it will return the next winter, in mid-December.
PS: While in the area, also look for a sweet shop further ahead, in Matia Mahal, that makes jalebis, which are not customary red but black (already celebrated on the pages of The Delhi Walla).
The white edition