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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Jalebi – Swirls Of History – Juicy Gift From Persia To India

A sinful soul-satisfying journey begins as soon as jalebi’s crisp surface breaks open into your mouth to release divine sweetness

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Pradeep Chamaria
Pradeep Chamaria
I am a photojournalist. Love to travel to unknown and unexplored vistas. Since 1992, I make places desirable for other travelers through experiential Travel Writing.

INDIA. New Delhi: Got a running nose or a headache? Try my grandmother’s age-old cure – eat hot Jalebi along with a glass of warm milk. Yes, eating jalebi is an age-old method of curing common cold and many other human body ailments. Spirally shaped like the human intestine (Kundalini), it is good for curing headaches, migraines, concentration issues, mental stress, intestinal ailments, and skin diseases.

Jalebi and Hot Milk, Photo Credits: Pradeep Chamaria

The name Jalebi originated from the ancient Sanskrit word Jalvallika, meaning full of water (which in fact is thick sugar syrup). Jal (water) plus Ebi (fault) in Hindi is equivalent to – Removal of water-related faults. 

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The crisp, orange juicy coils served with creamy rabdi (a sweet, slightly thick in consistency made by boiling milk for long hours) are a year-round favourite in many towns not only in India but in Pakistan too. From the 15th century till today, Jalebi is a compulsory part of festive occasions, weddings, Indian breakfast, and even temple bhog/prasad.

The sweet coils with a magical flavor have a universal liking and is known by different names at different places, like jilbi, zelapi, jilipi, jilapir, jahangiri, jilapir pak, zoolabiya, zangoola (in Middle-East), and jeri (in Nepal).

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Just like its shape, it is full of Swirls of History. Before we dig more into the crispy sweet plate, let’s check out a little about Jalebi’s journey. Introduced in India as part of the Muslim trade, cultural and political bandwagons from Persia (now Iran), it is known as Zoolabiya and prepared on special occasions and also distributed to the poor during the month of Ramzan.  

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The earliest recorded reference to the sweet coil can be found in a Jain work composed in AD 1450, Priyamkarnrpakatha by Jinasura. References are also found in various other old scripts including The Oxford Companion to Food. 

Variations of jalebi

In the holy city of Varanasi, you are served jalebis with kachori-sabzi at the Ram Bhandar of Thatheri Bazaar. In Indore, Madhya Pradesh, poha made with flattened rice and jalebis, and jalebi with fafda in Gujarat are famous breakfast combinations.

Jalebi and Fafda, Photo Credits: Twitter

Chef de Cuisine, Bhanwar Singh, WelcomHeritage Cheetagarh Resort & Spa tells The Transcontinental Times a little more about various types of jalebis in India, ”There is aloo ki jalebi in Jatipura village in Madhura district of Uttar Pradesh, and paneer jalebi in Kolkata, West Bengal. At some places they also use mawa/khoya (evaporated milk solids) to make jalebis.”

Paneer Jalebi, Photo Credits WelcomHeritage Cheetagarh Resort & Spa

Making of jalebi

Unlike other Indian sweets, which are largely milk-based, jalebi is prepared by deep-frying a fermented batter made of all-purpose flour (maida), gram flour, yogurt, cardamom powder, and saffron, and then dipped into sweet syrup known as chasni, made of sugar, flavouring spices, and water.

Making of Jalebi, Photo Credits WelcomHeritage Cheetagarh Resort & Spa

The process of making the dessert is very beautiful and picturesque. The halwai whisks the batter until a ribbony consistency is attained. It is then transferred into a muslin cloth cone with a small pierced hole in the center and is artistically squeezed in circular loops into boiling hot desi ghee/oil for deep frying. The soft, white coloured swirls quickly turn into crispy, golden-coloured jalebis, which are then immersed in chasni for a few minutes to retain the crispiness on the outside with a crystallised sugary exterior coating, and soft and chewy on the inside.

You finally hold a bowlful of hot jalebi served with creamy rabdi. And bite into the coiled, sugary goodness of deep-fried batter. A sinful soul-satisfying journey begins as soon as the crisp surface breaks open into your mouth to release divine sweetness. The taste lingers in your mouth and tantalise your taste buds.

Hot Serving of Freshly made Jalebi, Photo Credits Pradeep Chamaria

Innovation in Jalebi

The national dessert of India has adapted itself with innovative styles of cooking, e.g. fusion and molecular gastronomy, and new variations like Kiwi jalebi by Exec Chef Palash Ghosh, Taj Hotel & Convention Centre, Agra, etc. have evolved.

Kiwi Jalebi and Rabdi, Photo Credits: Exec Chef Palash Ghosh

Chef Anuj Wadhawan, owner of Ah-So Yum, Delhi has often traveled long distances to relish jalebis abroad. While in India, he loves exploring its savoury side too, and experiments by topping unsweetened crispy fried rings with yogurt, tamarind chutney, bhujiya, chopped coriander, and mint chutney that makes them sweet, spicy, and sour at the same time.

Savoury Version of Jalebi, Photo Credits Exec Chef Anuj Wadhwan

Mention in literature

Crisp, orange and coiled – its unique shape has mesmerised us all at some point in life. Several poets and writers have used jalebi for a variety of their poetic references and metaphors. Not many sweetmeats around the world have had the fortune of being such a phenomenon.

The famous 18th century Urdu poet Faez Dehlvi’s lines – Gud sii’n meetha hai bosa tujh lab ka, Is jalebi mein qand o shakar hai (Your kiss is sweeter than jaggery / It’s a jalebi of sweetness and sugar) describe jalebi in a romantic manner.

And we often hear the expression jalebi ki tarah seedha (as straight as jalebi) in everyday speech – where jalebi is used ironically to denote a crooked person. In simple words, jalebi has amused Indian imagination for several centuries. 

Read Also: Indigenisation of Foreign Introduced Sweets


  • Pradeep Chamaria

    I am a photojournalist. Love to travel to unknown and unexplored vistas. Since 1992, I make places desirable for other travelers through experiential Travel Writing.

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