City Food – Black Halwa, Ballimaran
A dessert changes its name.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is one of Old Delhi’s most iconic desserts, but Its name is a racist slur, the Hindustani equivalent of the N-word. And now the owner of an establishment that is universally acknowledged to rustle out the tastiest version of this dessert has agreed to its rechristening. “This mithai’s present identity is a part of traditions, but we must move with the times… my next batch of mithai boxes will be printed with the new name of Black Halwa and not H₹&@* Halwa,” declares Feroz Ahmed of the landmark Ghanta Ghar Wala mithai shop. The soft-spoken man however gently points out that the dish is actually brown.
Whatever, the black halwa is found across the Walled City, especially in Ballimaran, poet Ghalib’s last address. At the aforementioned Ghanta Ghar Wala, which is in Ballimaran’s Punjabi Phatak, the cooks boil “bhais ka doodh (buffalo milk)” for full eight hours in a colossal karahi until reduced to a black mess, fortifying it with desi ghee, maida, samnak, sugar, kewra, zafran, kaju, plus a masala mix of laung, jaiphal, javitri. Said to heat up the body, the halwa is recommended as an energy booster for men during amorous undertakings.
Since the post-Covid normalcy, the wintertime delicacy has been forced to become a round-the-year presence in scores of Ballimaran mithai places, including AMD Dairy and Haji M Hanif Dairy. Ghanta Ghar Wala’s Feroz Ahmed blames the phenomenon to an increased demand among the pardesi, the citizens outside Old Delhi. Good thing that his father hasn’t lived to see this day. Such irreverence to seasonal propriety—recklessly consuming a super-hot dish in sweltering summer—might have outraged Muhammed Haneef, who would make it only from October to March. He had founded Ghanta Ghar Wala in 1948, naming it after a Chandni Chowk clocktower, or ghanta ghar, that was destroyed long ago in a freak fire. (Haneef was an apprentice in a mithai shop close to the doomed tower, and there he had learned to make the black halwa.)
At 690 rupees per kilogram, the halwa is gooey, rich, probably potent, and will soon be politically correct.
PS: The photo shows Feroz Ahmed with cooks Abdul Quddus and Mohammed Saddam.