Indore is my kind of place: vibrant, extrovert, loud, confused about its future, and yet rooted to memories it has grown with. Despite being known across India for its food, the place is rarely explored except for people from Central and Western India. One can claim to have had its namkeens and sweets, but it’s a different thing to be there and be part of the Indori culture, so heavily dominated by its gastronomical aspects.
I have traveled to Indore on numerous occasions, as a doting nephew to two loving aunts, as a caring brother and as a loving friend, and as a traveler exploring Indori food. And on every occasion I have returned gratified although with an upset stomach due to excessive eating. It is difficult to go through the details of Indori food in length of a post, so I thought of having a companion whom I have met on every trip to Indore, and who could help us navigate the way Indore lives and eats (synonymous terms at Indore), the Jalebi.
Jalebis are crispy saffron-colored sweets popular across India. They came to India through Iran, although India had its own version too, the Imarti. Jalebis are prepared from refined flour batter, fried in Ghee or Oil and dipped in sugar syrup. Imartis on the other hand are prepared from Urad Dal batter. There are other versions of Jalebi too like the Mawa Jalebi which is popular in Madhya Pradesh or the Chenna Jalebi popular in Orissa, both of them tasting a bit like Gulabjamuns and equally appealing.
Jalebi at its core symbolizes everything about Indore’s culture and people. It lives the way an Indori does, in a bright and a colorful manner, sometimes arrogantly crispy on the exterior, but with a soft and gooey heart. It is an amalgamation of everything Indori, and is surely the most interesting person to know in town, as it can lead one to not only a plethora of culinary introductions, but also give one a snapshot of Indori life. It is an important component of the Indori food construct, it is not the superstar of Indori cuisine, but it helps us navigate through its delicacies as it is popular, pervasive, and present across all the meals.
Every morning Indore wakes up to the smell of Jalebis served with Poha. Poha is snack prepared using water-soaked flattened rice and few basic spices, garnished with the famous Indori Sev and Jeeravan (a masala similar to Chat Masala, without the Amchur component). At Indore, the Poha is always fresh and soft as it is prepared and kept over a steamer. The soft feel of the Poha gives way to the crunchiness of Jalebi, with the spicy clove flavored Sev mingling with its hot and syrupy sweetness. A crunchy and refreshing start to the day, topped with a cup of hot, milky and sweet tea.
A Jalebi can take two distinct flavors based on its thickness. The ones like the popular Chandni Chowk Dariba Jalebis are thickish, with a mushy-juicy center, crisp exterior and much more seeped syrup. They leave a more long lasting flavor as one tends to nibble on them for a relatively longer time. The others are the thin more crispy ones, like the ones served at Haldirams or at Indore with Poha in mornings, not so sweet, and very difficult to eat once cold. Most of the Jalebis lie on this spectrum of thickness, with the ones on the extremes tasting the best.
Back to Indore and its lazy afternoons. Post the lunch and a nice siesta Indoris are ready for a dose of Kachoris (both stuffed with dal and with potatoes), Samosas, and Batla Patties (A Pea filled snack, with a covering of Potato). What I have noticed that the Jalebis served in evening are thicker and softer, probably because it is served with crisp evening snacks. Along with the snacks, sometimes a plate of thick dahi or a glass of lassi (the famous one at Ghamandi Lassi) is combined with Jalebi to create a tempting Khatta-Meetha combination, driving Indoris to work and have engaging conversation throughout the evening.
Further in the evening the old city area in Indore Sarafa-a jewelry market turns into a salivating marketplace of delicacies. Here one would find Jalebi’s elder brother- the Jaleba. Served only in sizes of ½ Kg and 1Kg Jalebas are the perfect for families and friends to share and enjoy. And it is the perfect way to end a snacky evening tour of Dahi Wadas, Kachoris, Garadus (Yam deep fried and tossed with chutneys, like Delhi’s aloo chat), Bhutte ka kis (grated corn cooked somewhat prepared like Poha) and Shikanji (a fusion of rabdi, lassi, falooda) one can have at Sarafa. And there are few dishes like the Jhannat Kachori (Kachori filled with red chilies) which certainly can’t do without the pairing of Jalebis.
Even when the markets close and it is late at night Indore is still awake and craving for a glass of hot sweet milk garnished with Chironjis. At the bus stand or at Rau one can grab a glass of milk with a healthy layer of malai and gulp it down with a Jalebi, probably cold and prepared sometime in evening, but becomes more than edible with the hot milk.
After a hectic day of work and eating one has to just wait for a few hours, it will be morning again and Jalebi will be back with Poha.
Indore would go back to be same again: vibrant, extrovert, loud, confused about its future, and yet rooted to delicious jalebi-filled memories it has grown with.
Which is your favorite city for eating out? Any city which beats Indore?