In the modern world, the average person is obsessed with the future. We make plans for todays in preparation for tomorrows, rarely ever pausing to take a breath and look back into the past. If we did, perhaps we would see how far we have come. In a world that is constantly evolving and moving forward, it’s a welcome sight to witness that which remains unaffected by the flow of time, heralding back to the simple nature of years gone by. In honour of the approaching festive season, TheVibe presents a list of some of the oldest mithai vendors and sweet shops in India, predating the Independence of our country.
The festive season is nigh, and the country is abuzz with excitement. The festival of lights and sound may well be known for traditional diya-lighting ceremonies that end in vibrant displays of fire crackers, but would really be incomplete without a dizzying selection of sweets and mithais with which to fill our bellies. While it may have been salt that sparked the fire that ignited Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March, the sugar vendors of pre-independence India were not to be left behind when it came to taking a patriotic stand for our country.
With a government that policed both newspapers and streets, pre-independence-era mithaiwalas and supporters of the freedom movement used their sweet creations as mediums of protest and mockery, creating such desserts as the Tirangi Barfi, consisting of the three colours of the Indian flag, and Jawahar Laddoos embedded with gem-like dry fruits. Today, we take a look at some of the surviving sweet shops from this era of Indian history, lasting pillars of the spirit of our country under the British Raj.
Punjabi Ghastiram Halwai
Year of Establishment: 1916
Established in the year 1916 by Ghastiram Bajaj, this authentic halwai prioritizes complete customer satisfaction. The Mumbai-based outlets are a testament to the success of the business, who pride themselves on serving up an array of mouth-watering mithais and unique treats for the festive season. Try their Dry Fruit Anarkali and ice halwa for a sensory experience so sweet, they will have you coming back for more every year!
Year of Establishment: 1795
Located in the shadow of the Taj Mahal in Agra, Bhagat Halwai was founded in the year 1795, by Lekh Raj Bhagat, and has been around since the Mughal era of Indian history. Incorporating elements of the modern world including both technological and hygiene-based innovation, Bhagat Halwai is renowned for their barfis, jalebis, rabri and sabzi-puri. Their take on doda barfi, made using cracked wheat, coconut powder, clotted cream and dry fruits makes for a delectable treat too good to be missed!
Dotivala Bakers & Confectioners
Year of Establishment: 1700’s
This Parsi bakery in Surat was established in the 1700s by Faramji Pestonji Dotivala. A repurposed warehouse established during the Dutch reign in India, left in the care of Dotivala, one of five Parsi employees appointed by the Dutch, the establishment has a storied history to say the very least. Today, the bakery and confectionery is known for being one of the first in India to sell batasa and nankhatai. Operated today by the 6th generation of the family, the Dotivala Bakers and Confectioners have managed to preserve a lot of their old charm, while simultaneously adapting to the innovations of the modern world. If you miss out on a visit to Surat, their sweet Parsi fare is also available for order online.
Year of Establishment: 1868
Kolkata based store K.C. Das was established in the year 1868 by owner Krishna Chandra Das, who is the son of Nobin Chandra Das- the pioneer of authentic Bengali sweets with a fascinating story to tell. Starting out in a little shop in Bagbazar, Nobin had a dream to create something he could claim as his own. After months spent ideating, experimenting, failing and never giving up, the man’s work came to a historical head that would change Indian sweets forever. A spongy ball made from chhana, soaked in a thick sugary syrup, called a rosogulla. Selling about 2000 kgs of the same in a single day, K.C. Das makes the best rosogullas in the country.
Year of Establishment: 1850
Established in the year 1850 by Lala Kanwar Sen, this Delhi-based eatery is known for their homemade exclusive recipe for dal biji. A savoury treat made from muskmelon seeds and gram flour noodles, seasoned with a combination of spices and shudh desi ghee, the exact recipe for their version of the dish has been a carefully guarded secret for over six generations of the founding family. Serving up a number of both sweet and savoury delights, Kanwarji Dalbjiwala is also celebrated for their kaju-based halwa.
Photo Courtesy: All Images attributed to their original owners.