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    Post #1 - April 19th, 2005, 7:09 pm
    Post #1 - April 19th, 2005, 7:09 pm Post #1 - April 19th, 2005, 7:09 pm
    Sweet Ambala

    There has already been, I noticed, some mention of Ambala. First here and also in various other threads. I'm starting this thread in case the relatively new* and slightly further west location compared to most other Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi (should I say subcontinental?) establishments has kept anyone from going there. This was my first time there.

    First some disclosure: I love desserts and sweets. I have a genetic predisposition to liking sweet things.

    Some people are put off by how sweet Indian desserts are and unfortunately, the many not very good examples of Indian sweets on Devon only compound the aversion. Some 'sweets' are also rather more sweet than they should really be and my past experiences with sweets on Devon have not been anything to write about.

    It should be noted that sweets in India are eaten not only as dessert, but as a snack, or with/after tea, or even as breakfast. Hence the term 'sweet' or 'sweetmeat' (not to be confused with 'sweetbread') instead of dessert.
    Sweets within India differ depending on their place of origin (North/West vs. South vs. East) and preparation. The 'jalebis' of Gujarati (western India) origin (such as those found in Kamdar plaza and Sukhadia), I find a bit too sweet and more often than not I did not care for them at the two places mentioned.
    The jalebis at Ambala were fresh - still warm. Crisp but oozy with a not too sweet syrup. These were reminiscent of the sort made in Calcutta/West Bengal (eastern India)*** - which is famous within India for it's sweets (typically milk/dairy based) . The jalebis were just made (in house) unlike most of their other offerings which are flown in every two days from London**, the girl behind the counter said, and I did notice a woman in the room at the back of the store. The nicely made jalebis attest to the experience of their maker. They are made from a batter piped onto the hot oil (like funnel cakes), so that an experienced cook will continue onto the next swirl without breaking the stream of batter. Once a batch has been made, the 'individual' jalebis can be simply broken off from each other (this would be after they are dipped into the sugar syrup). A couple of weeks ago I got some disappointing ones from Kamdar plaza - all tangled up - that should have tipped me off...

    We also bought some gulab jamuns (gulab = rose, jamun = a small fruit***) and kala jamuns (kala = black). These are related and made from the same/similar ingredients, and I prefer the more complex caramely burnt flavor of the latter. They are made by frying balls of a 'dough' of fresh cheese and khoya (milk solids; obtained by reducing milk over low heat so there is no caramelization), with a little flour to bind and flavoured with cardamom and rose essense (for the 'gulab' jamun), then heating and serving with a simple (lightly caramelized) syrup.
    These are best slightly warm. Just reheat for a little bit in the microwave. In case you overheat it, have some vanilla ice cream on the side :)

    Here is a picture of one of each. I wouldn't necessarily eat all of them together in one serving.
    Image

    Ambala Sweets
    2741 W Devon
    773-764-9000

    Min. $10 purchase with credit card, $25 for checks



    *Their first anniversary is on July 14th

    **Apparently they weren't happy with the milk available here and prefer flying everything in! I had thought the milk production hereabouts would have been an ideal reason to set up a sweet shop, but I suppose it is more cost effective to fly it in than to get personnel here and reoptimize recipes for the milk.
    We were tempted to get some of their rassogulla - a famous Indian and Bengal sweet that is based on fresh cheese but passed until our next visit.


    [edits]
    *** 'West' Bengal is in the East because, the Eastern part bacame East Pakistan on independence from Ma England, and subsequently Bangladesh.
    Description of gulab jamun corrected for accuracy. See this post (below)
    Last edited by sazerac on April 22nd, 2005, 4:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #2 - April 19th, 2005, 7:49 pm
    Post #2 - April 19th, 2005, 7:49 pm Post #2 - April 19th, 2005, 7:49 pm
    VERY helpful. :D

    Could you do a few more of these, on the halwa and burfi (or is it bufi) and such.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #3 - April 19th, 2005, 8:20 pm
    Post #3 - April 19th, 2005, 8:20 pm Post #3 - April 19th, 2005, 8:20 pm
    Ambala is great. I'm not there more often because I eat everything I bring home and I bring home a lot.

    Everybody I've come in contact with at the shop has been extremely helpful. Ask, and they'll gladly provide samples to try before you buy. I'm with sazerac -- the jalebi here is on line with my own taste preference. It's less cloying sweet and technicolor orange than the jalebi you'll find further down the street. Last time I was there, they had lists of ingredients underneath each item they sold. A big plus for me, as I'm allergic to certain nuts, and my subcontinent brothers and sisters like to sneak those in when I'm not looking.

    In my mind, Ambala does lots better than Tahoora, the other oft-touted sweet shop in the area.

    --Zee
  • Post #4 - April 20th, 2005, 6:37 am
    Post #4 - April 20th, 2005, 6:37 am Post #4 - April 20th, 2005, 6:37 am
    Ambala is great. I'm not there more often because I eat everything I bring home and I bring home a lot.

    Everybody I've come in contact with at the shop has been extremely helpful. Ask, and they'll gladly provide samples to try before you buy. I'm with sazerac -- the jalebi here is on line with my own taste preference. It's less cloying sweet and technicolor orange than the jalebi you'll find further down the street.


    I agree, its a very good jalebi. Frankly I had hardly had any good jalebis in
    Chicago ever - to me jalebis have to be fresh to be good, and they almost
    never were. Most places on Devon just make it and leave it around for
    a while - sometimes a few days even. Once it isnt fresh the crispness
    goes out of it, they become somewhat rubbery - and they just arent good
    then. Ive always tried jalebis on Devon, over and over, just because they
    can be so good when theyre right - but they almost never were, I suppose
    when theyre m aking it once every few days youd just have to be really
    lucky to catch it at the right time.

    At Ambala, Jalebis are one of the few things they make on premises - and
    they make it twice a day, I think the girl said. Even so, I dont always buy
    it, I like mine actually "warm" if at all possible - and I had told the girl so
    (they were always a couple of hours old when I usually got there). Was
    there with a friend after a heavy meal at Usmaniya a few weeks ago and
    had purchased a couple of items - and this girl saw me while she was
    serving another customer, and came all the way across the room, to
    inform me that the jalebis this day had been made only 20 minutes previously
    and were actually still warm :-) Pretty impressive piece of salesmanship.
    We ended up picking up only a bit more than a quarter-pound, to take to
    a friends in Glenview for "tea" (we were just coming off a heavy Usmaniya
    meal, and were headed to "tea" which usually includes snacks), we figured
    theyd be an addition to the tea. Instead, of course, by the time we got to
    Glenview, all the jalebis were long gone :-)

    Was at Ambala again this Sunday evening - once again the jalebis were
    good, as they were fresh (actually, dropped in there before an Usmaniya
    dinner - and bought a few things, but they had no jalebis, the girl said
    she was making them in another 20 minutes. So dropped in again an
    hour-and-a-half later, and found them excellent and fresh - though not
    still "warm" this time).

    But this "warm" thing is a bit of a quibble - theyre good when fresh enough
    anyway. And, as noted, at least some Devon spots make them once every
    few days, as opposed to twice a day at Ambala! In terms of freshness
    and taste, there is usually thus no comparison.

    In my mind, Ambala does lots better than Tahoora, the other oft-touted sweet shop in the area.

    --Zee


    I was very much a Tahoora guy - for the past few years, thats been the only
    place I wen to for my sweets. Since Ambala has arrived, I stick almost
    exclusively with them for my sweets now (except on one occasion IIRC,
    when Ambala was out of kaju-katri; and Tahoora's Sohan Halwa is
    still decent).

    Tahoora, however, still does very well - and are expanding to a huge spot
    across the street soon. That is at least partly because of the savories
    IMHO - the samosas there are still very good (Ambala's were fine, had
    em fresh too, but Ive never had corn in my samosas before, and I think
    its likely most people outside Punjab havent - there is just more of a
    comfort-food taste with Tahoora).

    A couple of weeks ago, dropped into to Ambala on a Sunday morning, just
    after 10am when they open, and picked up sweets - I was the *only*
    person there, it was early. Then, 10 minutes later, went over to Tahoora for
    their weekend halwa-puri-breakfast (best deal in town, even though its
    now been raised to 3.50 from 3.00) - and I had a 20-minute wait in
    line before they could serve me! The weekend breakfasts are a
    huge seller for Tahoora - more than anything Ambala has IMHO.

    Secondly, Tahoora is a Muslim place. Ambala, while owned by a Muslim,
    has mostly a Hindu/Sikh clientele in England (and maybe here too). Thus,
    while both have potato samosas, Tahoora also has the more authentic
    "kheema samosa" - the mince-beef version. And Sheekh Kababs etc, also
    made of beef. Ambala has non-veggie items, but they try and compromise
    on it - they have no beef, they make a Chicken-Samosa instead. It isnt
    bad, but it isnt really authentic in an all-India kind of way, and so will not
    appeal to customers nearly as much (growing up, the only kind of samosas
    I ever had were the potato and the beef - never heard of a Chicken Samosa
    in those days, it still isnt common in most places in India I think).

    The Ambala guys did say (on Sunday) that they were planning some
    kind of weekend-breakfast thing down the road - it'll be interesting to
    see how that works out, when it arrives.

    c8w
  • Post #5 - April 20th, 2005, 7:09 am
    Post #5 - April 20th, 2005, 7:09 am Post #5 - April 20th, 2005, 7:09 am
    The jalebis at Ambala were fresh - still warm. Crisp but oozy with a not too sweet syrup. These were reminiscent of the sort made in Calcutta/Bengal (western India) - which is famous within India for it's sweets (typically milk/dairy based)
    .

    Calcutta/Bengal is actually Eastern India, not Western - sort of North-Eastern
    actually, on the border with Bangladesh (pre-1947, there was just one
    "Bengal State", which included the entire country of Bangladesh). In 1947
    the British left and India was partitioned - Bengal was divided down the
    middle into "West Bengal", which was Indian, and "East Bengal", which was
    part of Pakistan (separated from the rest of Pakistan by a few thousand
    miles). East Bengal, in 1971, became Bangladesh - but until 1947, it was
    still part of greater Bengal state. Geographically, Bengal is right on the
    eastern edge of India (and Calcutta is the capital city).

    Bengal *is* famous for it sweets, but IMHO mostly only their milk/dairy products
    as you say - Iam not sure jalebis would be typically seen as a famous
    Bengali sweet per se (jalebis are good in Bengal too, but IMHO they are
    often good thruout India). Bengal's *really* famous sweets are the
    rasgolla ... and their best, to all Bengalis, is their mishti-doi (mishti = sweet,
    doi=bengali way fo saying dahi, ie yougurt). Every Bengali you talk to
    boasts of their mishti-doi (and righty so, every time anyone visited from
    Calcutta, we'd get em to bring us this big earthen pot filled with mishti-doi,
    and it was very good). However, I dont think there is a single place in
    Chicago that actually serves mishti-doi (well, maybe Sonargaon does,
    but I dont know if its any good there, never tried it).


    The jalebis were just made (in house) unlike most of their other offerings which are flown in every two days from London**, the girl behind the counter said, and I did notice a woman in the room at the back of the store. The nicely made jalebis attest to the


    They definitely *are* made out back - I was there Sunday evening, and they
    didnt have any left, the girl said she'd be making them in about 20 minutes.
    So I dropped by an hour-and-a-half later after dinner, and picked some up
    to go, they were ready by then. Ambala makes a few things out back now -
    the samosas, the pakoras, the jalebis etc.


    We also bought some gulab jamuns (gulab = rose, jamun = round/ball/sphere) and kala jamuns (kala = black). These are related and made from the same/similar ingredients, and I prefer the more complex caramely burnt flavor of the latter. They are made by frying


    BTW, FWIW, the girl behind the counter has told me (in passing, during a chat)
    in the past that the kala-jamuns at Ambala are her personal favourite item -
    she said in her opinion far better than anything on Devon. Probably true,
    too - they do a very good kala-jamun at Ambala.

    **Apparently they weren't happy with the milk available here and prefer flying everything in! I had thought the milk production hereabouts would have been an ideal reason to set up a sweet shop, but I suppose it is more cost effective to fly it in than to get personnel here and reoptimize recipes for the milk.


    I really doubt the milk is the reason, myself - though probably a good excuse :-)
    Basically Ambala has dozens of branches in England nowadays, it is the
    most popular Indian sweet-shop in England. The Chicago location is their
    first branch in the USA. Supposedly they have one location in England where
    *everything* is made - and then sent out to all their England branches from
    that spot. When they started their first US-outpost, it probably made sense
    to do the same thing - ship out from the same location to their new branch
    as well. At the start I believe they were shipping out everything - probably
    including jalebis, and they had no samosas/pakoras etc. They had a
    "chef" come visit a while ago supposedly (they mentioned a name, but Iam
    damned if I can remember it), who "taught" the Chicago people
    the Ambala-version of samosas, pakoras, jalebis etc - the stuff that really
    ought to be warm when served.

    Most of the other stuff doesnt have to be warm - and can be flown in
    easily enough. It depends on how it sells, but most of the time IIRC they
    have 3 shipments a week (I think it might be Monday/Wednesday/Friday
    most weeks). If you ever make it there at lunchtime on a Monday
    afternoon, you'll find very little left after the weekend rush - their
    Monday shipment doesnt apparently clear customs until about 3pm or
    later :-) (I once went for Monday lunch, and found them out of Kaju
    Katri).

    We were tempted to get some of their rassogulla - a famous Indian and Bengal sweet that is based on fresh cheese but passed until our next visit.


    Have tried their rasgolla and it was decent enough the one time - but Iam a
    big fan of their Ras Malai, which is the best on Devon IMHO. It is flown
    over, and is frozen I think (didnt know that till this weekend), but is somehow
    stil very good. (Tried their Ras Malai when it was sitting in the container
    with the other sweets, a long time ago - it was great. Always have had
    it since. Last time, found it in their refrigerator - and was told thats how
    they kept it, before they put it in the open containers. Tried it again, and
    it was still the same, excellent. This Sunday I wanted to get some more -
    and the guy told me he could only give it to me frozen, it hadnt been
    unthawed yet! They had run out of the amount they had thawed - partly
    because of the Sunday rush, apparently, but mostly, the man said, because
    someone from Michigan came in and pickedup *Thirty Packets* on Saturday,
    in preparation for the big India/Pakistan cricket match Saturday night.
    Apparently he was a Pakistani, so he must have enjoyed it a great deal.
    Personally, I hope it turned to ashes in his mouth :-)

    c8w
  • Post #6 - April 20th, 2005, 7:37 am
    Post #6 - April 20th, 2005, 7:37 am Post #6 - April 20th, 2005, 7:37 am
    Ambala is good, very good. Well worth the extra buck or so per pound they charge in comparison to the other sweet stores. I've never had the jalebi there, as it's never been warm when I get there I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Other than the occasional fresh out of the fryer jalebei at sukhadia, the only decent jalebi i've had here was at a wedding when they had set up a fresh jalebi station.

    In terms of gulab jamun, I too generally prefer the kala jamun to the regular jamun, and actually like my jamun warm as well - I prefer them at home warmed up a few seconds in the microwave. For those who like saffron flavor in their gulab jamun, kamdar is the only place where I've tasted a distinct saffron tinged gulab jamun.

    One thing I still like better at tahoora though is the kalakhand, something i've mentioned probably too often

    c8w, you mentioned mishti doi. Sonargaon does make it, though I'm not sure it is regularly available, I had it once there when there seemed to be a birthday party going on. I don't remember it being all that great however. I've never had a true mishti doi though, so I have nothing to compare it to.

    Those earthen pots I know are a big factor in the taste of dahi, supposedly the earthen pots leave the home made yoghurt creamier and thicker. My mom brought me back a couple of similar ones for making my yoghurt at home and they do result in nice homemade stuff, though I've never done a scientific yoghurt off, side by side earthen vs. regular pot yoghurt making trial
  • Post #7 - April 20th, 2005, 8:29 am
    Post #7 - April 20th, 2005, 8:29 am Post #7 - April 20th, 2005, 8:29 am
    c8w wrote:Calcutta/Bengal is actually Eastern India, not Western - sort of North-Eastern
    actually, on the border with Bangladesh (pre-1947, there was just one
    "Bengal State", which included the entire country of Bangladesh). In 1947
    the British left and India was partitioned - Bengal was divided down the
    middle into "West Bengal", which was Indian, and "East Bengal", which was
    part of Pakistan (separated from the rest of Pakistan by a few thousand
    miles). East Bengal, in 1971, became Bangladesh - but until 1947, it was
    still part of greater Bengal state. Geographically, Bengal is right on the
    eastern edge of India (and Calcutta is the capital city).

    Bengal *is* famous for it sweets, but IMHO mostly only their milk/dairy products
    as you say - Iam not sure jalebis would be typically seen as a famous
    Bengali sweet per se (jalebis are good in Bengal too, but IMHO they are
    often good thruout India). Bengal's *really* famous sweets are the
    rasgolla ... and their best, to all Bengalis, is their mishti-doi (mishti = sweet,
    doi=bengali way fo saying dahi, ie yougurt). Every Bengali you talk to
    boasts of their mishti-doi (and righty so, every time anyone visited from
    Calcutta, we'd get em to bring us this big earthen pot filled with mishti-doi,
    and it was very good). However, I dont think there is a single place in
    Chicago that actually serves mishti-doi (well, maybe Sonargaon does,
    but I dont know if its any good there, never tried it).


    Did I say, 'western'? Good gracious, I always get my east and west mixed up, as well as my left and other left. I have edited/corrected my original post. Thank you.

    Jalebis, unlike rasgolla (also spelt rossogolla; pronounced "Rosho" (raw+show) + "Gol" (as in gold without the d) + "la" (as in the note that follows so); stress on the first syllable) and misti-doi, are not a 'Bengal' specialty as c8w notes. Also bengal is famous mainly for the milk/dairy sweets. Jalebis are made throughout India but are very different depending where they are made. In Gujarat (west) and other parts in north india saffron is added and it is very sweet* (e.g. Kamdar plaza variety), in the southern Tamil Nadu it is much more sour (which correlates with a taste preference there). In Bengal, it tends to be a little less sour, crisp and not too sweet. This was what I was reminded of at Ambala.

    The 'fresh' jalebis at Ambala were also kept warm under a lamp (though it wasn't really a 'heat' lamp). I did buy a half pound, and even after couple of days (stored covered at cool room temp.) were still very good. Something I cannot say for the jalebis from any other place I've tried on Devon.


    *This extra sweetness is possibly because one mode of consumption is in a bowl of milk, for breakfast.
  • Post #8 - April 20th, 2005, 1:11 pm
    Post #8 - April 20th, 2005, 1:11 pm Post #8 - April 20th, 2005, 1:11 pm
    sazerac wrote:The jalebis at Ambala were fresh - still warm. Crisp but oozy with a not too sweet syrup.

    Sazerac,

    You owe me a new belt sometime in the next few weeks, as I fear now that I have tasted warm/fresh jalebis I will outgrow my current multi-notch lasso. :)

    In general I'm not a fan of Indian sweets, with the exception of jalebis and, oh heck, what's the corn bread w/jalapenos called?, and Ambala's jalebis were head and tail above what I've tried in the past.

    Image

    Yep, that's a big take-home box of the darn things. Like I said, you owe me a new belt. :)

    Image

    I should mention that I stopped at Ambala after a very nice solo lunch at Hyderabad House. Naseer recognized me as a infrequent regular and, when I was undecided, simply gave me the equivalent of a plate lunch. Mutton curry/chicken fry/lentil soup/rice/veggies and a couple of chapati's.

    Hyderabad tends to play movies from India on the TV's, and there was a fun to listen to heated discussion about one of the actors among 6-7 of the other diners.

    Kidding about the belt aside, thanks for the detailed post, and thanks to all the others who post in such wonderful detail about Indian food. It's a subject I know little about and I read the posts with real enjoyment.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #9 - April 20th, 2005, 5:07 pm
    Post #9 - April 20th, 2005, 5:07 pm Post #9 - April 20th, 2005, 5:07 pm
    G Wiv wrote:Sazerac,
    You owe me a new belt sometime in the next few weeks, as I fear now that I have tasted warm/fresh jalebis I will outgrow my current multi-notch lasso. :)


    Are you wearing said belt for stylistic reasons? Then I refuse.
    If the belt is for functional reasons, then sir, your pants must be loose. May I suggest a half-dozen gulab jamuns* twice a day? :twisted:


    *Spied in some books and menus simply as, "Deep-fried Dough Balls in Syrup".
  • Post #10 - April 22nd, 2005, 3:41 pm
    Post #10 - April 22nd, 2005, 3:41 pm Post #10 - April 22nd, 2005, 3:41 pm
    Point to note - Jamun does NOT mean round (round = gola). The name "gulab jamun" in fact refers to the jamun fruit (specifically Syzgium cumini) which has a small blackish & oval plaum-like fruit, like the shape of the sweetmeat. The name is a play on the resemblance and the fact that jamun fruit are something of an acquired taste (slightly astringent & often eaten dipped in salt) rather than the sweetness of the rose.

    This article
    http://www.travelclassics.com/library/i ... chen.shtml contains a reference to the correct name.

    The lack of crispness of jalebis means they have been sitting outside (not that they aren't freshly made) - the sugar content means that they absorb water from the atmosphere (in the same way sugar cakes up) & turns the pastry soggy. Stored in an airtight tub they retain their texture much better. Humid weather is disasterous for jalebis & is why they are considered a winter sweet. As mentioned below large parties in India, there are often jalebiwalas (& kulfiwalas too) making these fresh for the guests to avoid the whole problem & a big deal is sometimes made of the vat of syrup as the sweetmaker wil point out the use of whole saffron threads to color & scent this.

    The classic (old) begali sweet is sandesh, but I've rarely seen it here locally (its hard to make well) - misti-doh & rasgullas are "new" inventions by confectioners in Calcutta. The history of the rasgulla is here

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2003/20031205/edit.htm

    (150 years is new! there are temple recipes for sandesh dating back hundreds of years).
  • Post #11 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:16 pm
    Post #11 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:16 pm Post #11 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:16 pm
    Athena wrote:Point to note - Jamun does NOT mean round (round = gola). The name "gulab jamun" in fact refers to the jamun fruit (specifically Syzgium cumini) which has a small blackish & oval plaum-like fruit, like the shape of the sweetmeat. The name is a play on the resemblance and the fact that jamun fruit are something of an acquired taste (slightly astringent & often eaten dipped in salt) rather than the sweetness of the rose.

    This article
    http://www.travelclassics.com/library/i ... chen.shtml contains a reference to the correct name.



    Fantastic post and articles!
    I especially like the part in the first one
    "absolutely marvelous gulab jamun, meaning "rose fruit" — an egg-shaped cake of Indian cream cheese filled with pistachios. It had been warmed in Indian rum and sprinkled with rosewater before serving.

    (bold to highlight mine)
  • Post #12 - May 31st, 2005, 7:33 pm
    Post #12 - May 31st, 2005, 7:33 pm Post #12 - May 31st, 2005, 7:33 pm
    Following a not particularly ideal S. Indian meal elsewhere, my wife and I took our out-of-towner relatives to Ambala.

    This time around too, late on a Sunday afternoon, the pile of jalebis were very alluring. Although Athena pointed out that jalebi crispiness may suffer due to the hygroscopic effects of the sugar syrup, I do think that the nice crisp crunch of the Ambala jalebis (compared to some others on the street) is from a better batter/syrup-dip and not simply due to their freshness or storage.

    Reena, smiling, looks away as I make googly eyes at the jalebis (I said the jalebis non-VI :) )
    Image

    We ate a bunch of jalebis and then split a piece of halwa (habshi) amongst ourselves
    Image

    I'd never really heard of Halwa "Habshi" before so I asked what it was about. Reena, the very cheerful and helpful girl behind the counter consulted her charts (which has all the nutritional info you don't want to know about, and ingredients) and apparently it is an Ambala specialty. "the recipe is known only to the owner and the person who makes it," I was told.


    A ramble on Halwas, Barfis and related substances
    Halwa (pronounced HULL + Wa as in water) and Barfi (also burfi; pronounced BURR (roll your 'R's!) + fee) are two major types* of (mostly North) Indian sweets. Halwas consist of sugar and flour (from different grains and pulses/lentils depending on the particular halwa) and/or vegetables, fruits and nuts that are fried - usually in ghee (very highly clarified butter); sometimes milk or khoya (aka mawa) is added. Barfis are not fried and are typically khoya (reduced milk solids) based with added flavourings. Barfis are more milky-creamy and lighter than the halwas. [very simplistic explanation - please do clarify, correct me as necessary]

    In halwas, the 'frying' I mentioned is not deep frying, but rather a slow cooking in the fat, much like making a roux, to let the flavours develop and until the whole sweet mass jells together. There are innumerable halwas - from the more common Gaajar/gajjar (pronounced GAA + jer (as in jerk); gaajar = carrot ) halwa that is more acessible to home cooks to halwas from squashes, egg (yolk) and other sometimes exotic ingredients. Different halwa makers may have a different take on particular halwas and many have signature halwas (with 'secret' recipes). It is quite labour intensive - A fair amount of stirring is required to prevent the sugar from causing it to stick and burn.
    While India generally hasn't had a history of restaurant culture, the skill and experience of the professional sweet maker or confectioner (Halwai, or the Bengali Moira) has been appreciated for a long time.


    The tradition of halwas (or even more generally - frying in copious ghee) comes directly from the Moslem influence in Indian cuisine - from the Mughal (or Moghul - which is the origin of 'mogul') invaders that established an empire in India. The arabic word for 'sweet' is halua (pronounced IIRC, 'HULL' + 'oo' (or 'u' as in umlaut) + 'ah') and some lebanese 'sweets' look and feel very similar:
    Three Lebanese sweets - haluas - date syrup flavoured, sesame, and nougat [non Ambala]

    Image

    Halwas are also found in South India (and pronounced halva). Tirunenvelli in Tamil Nadu is famous for its halwa , which is a sweet translucent red orange chewy jelly (texture almost like jujubies).
    In Kerala you will find what is known as Black Halwa [non Ambala]
    Image
    Black halwa is simply flour and sugar heated in oil (most often coconut) till the 'roux' blackens - this is flavoured choc full with spices - cloves, cardomom, cinnamon etc. that are abundant in that region.

    since I'm getting rather long winded anyway, I'll share this recent pic
    when I say abundant spices, I mean people have this growing in their backyard!

    Image

    *Bengali sweets would constitute a third 'type' in their use of chenna (pronounced CHHan-aa) or fresh paneer (Puh-Neer) which is milk that has been 'cut' or curdled by the addition of citric acid (lime/lemon juice) or vinegar (thus akin to a queso fresco). This is significantly different from the other North Indian sweets in which the milk is not curdled - possibly for (historical) reasons of religious stricture. Few Bengali sweets are at Ambala, but Roshogollo is available. I still haven't tried the Ambala version yet - so this post is mercifully that much shorter :roll: :twisted:
    end ramble
    -----------------------

    The Halwa habshi we tried was soft, dense, rich, nutty and caramelly. Halwas can be quite heavy - a little bit goes a long way and I savored the morsel from the piece we split.
    The nice thing about Ambala, the girl was happy to offer us a little to taste to help us decide which kind of halwa we wanted.
    Ambala has a lot of halwas (and barfis). Try some, you'll surely find one (or more) you like. Don't approach halwas and other Indian sweets like western desserts (say, cake) and carve yourself a big piece (unless you can handle it). Again, a little bit goes a long way. These are little treats to awaken your sweet tastebuds after a meal. And just as your tolerance for spicy, even hot foods may grow, so too may your capacity for these Indian sweets.

    Some of the halwas at Ambala more details are on their website

    Halwa habshi
    Image

    Halwa Anjir (flavoured with figs)
    Image

    Bombay Halwa (or Muscat halwa) - 3 flavours. These are more chewy jelly/jujubie textured
    Image

    The lids covering the halwas (and barfis) typically contain a list of ingredients which is also helpful. Or you can always ask for more details.
    Sohan Halwa
    Image


    As we left, the relatives we went there with asked us to ship a whole bunch of sweets to them (in Ohio) when it came time for their kids' graduation parties.

    Ambala is a great spot on Devon. It is slightly further West of most other Indian and Pakistani shops, but I'm glad to brave the traffic towards it.
  • Post #13 - May 31st, 2005, 9:34 pm
    Post #13 - May 31st, 2005, 9:34 pm Post #13 - May 31st, 2005, 9:34 pm
    sazerac wrote:I'd never really heard of Halwa "Habshi" before so I asked what it was about. Reena, the very cheerful and helpful girl behind the counter consulted her charts (which has all the nutritional info you don't want to know about, and ingredients) and apparently it is an Ambala specialty. "the recipe is known only to the owner and the person who makes it," I was told.


    it seems like it's a karachi thing, though I found this article from The Hindu kinda amusing

    oh, btw, I'm partial to the anjir halwa at ambala. At home I generally just make the standard sooji/semolina version
  • Post #14 - June 1st, 2005, 12:32 am
    Post #14 - June 1st, 2005, 12:32 am Post #14 - June 1st, 2005, 12:32 am
    sazerac wrote:I'd never really heard of Halwa "Habshi" before so I asked what it was about. Reena, the very cheerful and helpful girl behind the counter consulted her charts (which has all the nutritional info you don't want to know about, and ingredients) and apparently it is an Ambala specialty. "the recipe is known only to the owner and the person who makes it," I was told.


    it seems like it's a karachi thing, though I found this article from The Hindu kinda amusing


    Heh. I love Ambala, but if theyre suggesting they created Habshi Halwa out of
    thin air, theyre exaggerating somewhat :-) Chicken Vesuvio and the Jibarito
    might well be Chicago creations - but Habshi Halwa certainly is not (and it isnt
    the invention of Ambala-in-England either :-)

    It isnt just a Karachi thing IMHO - maybe more of a muslim sweet, but really
    available easily in both India and Pakistan. An uncle left Bombay more than a
    quarter century ago - he remembers Habshi Halwa well from his youth (and
    its one of his most frequent purchases from Ambala on Devon now). (BTW,
    the last time someone came in from Bombay, his request was to bring him
    some Suterfeni - not sure if Ambala makes that, but if it does its not nearly
    as good a version. And then there's Malai Khaja - which basically has to be
    consumed in 24 hours, so is almost impossible to bring. It is present on the
    Ambala menu, but they dont have it - they claim they make it only on special
    order for weddings and the like).

    You can find a link mentioning Delhi Habshi Halwa here:
    http://www.rediff.com/travel/1998/jan/27ift4.htm

    As you can see, the link is basically a look at Iftar - the breaking of the fast at
    Ramzan (ie very much a Muslim thing). But not exclusive to Pakistan or
    Karachi. The place next door to Karim's serves Habshi Halwa - and Karim's
    is about as much of a Delhi institution as it is possible to be.


    oh, btw, I'm partial to the anjir halwa at ambala. At home I generally just make the standard sooji/semolina version


    Yes, I like the anjir a bit myself - but you'd only like that if you like the taste of
    figs in general I suppose.

    Anyway, to me, in my head at least, these things are all halwas, but they are quite
    different, really. Gajar, Sooji etc (even Dudhi, made at home often) are
    different IMHO - basically can be spread on a plate (Dudhi Halwa I often used to eat
    with a roti, actually - Dudhi is what, Opo squash, I think? Didnt even use it as
    a dessert at home). Gajar (Carrot) Halwa is dessert - and can be very very
    rich (on restaurant menus it can sometimes be 30 rupees, and sometimes 300
    rupees - the 300 one will be chock-full of pistachios, cashews etc, as opposed
    to the "plain" 30 rupee one which will have none of the expensive garnishments).

    The Habshi, the Anjir etc - the ones at Ambala. They are more semi-solid almost,
    IMHO. That is, they will come in cakes, sort of, at these places (the few times
    these places make Carrot Halwa, King Sweets does on occasion IIRC, it
    will never be in "cake" form). You can also have the Habshi and Anjir etc
    when not warm (Id never eat Gajar Halwa if it wasnt warm).

    And then, of course, there is Sohan Halwa. Which is totally different - the
    really good ones are so hard and brittle, you feel like youre going to break
    off your teeth in successfully getting a bite :-) They also keep for a very
    long time, at room temperature - weeks. Theyre sort of a brittle candy, really -
    I like Sohan Halwa a lot, pick em up quite often. Tahoora's is pretty decent too.

    Ambala, however, is obviously proudest of their Habshi Halwa (justifiably so,
    IMHO). Its the one thing thats been recommended the most, on visits. And I
    like it plenty - but, as with everyone, we all have our personal favourites
    with anything. Ive always been a big Kaju Katli guy, and Ambala makes an
    excellent version. Their jalebis are terrific (and the only fresh ones on Devon).
    Their ras-malais are excellent. As are their kala-jamuns. As good as the
    Habshi Halwa is, I often go with some of the above (my personal faves)
    over it, and am always happy enough with my choice.

    c8w
  • Post #15 - April 23rd, 2007, 4:22 pm
    Post #15 - April 23rd, 2007, 4:22 pm Post #15 - April 23rd, 2007, 4:22 pm
    :-(

    Was driving down Devon yesterday evening, and stopped to pick up the usual
    kaju-katri (and jalebis, if theyre fresh) from Ambala... and they were closed.
    The sign no longer read Amabala either, claimed it was "United Cafe".

    Went in to the new restaurant next door (with an unusual Urdu name,
    which I cant recall at the moment.. theyre offering 3 buck biryanis etc)
    and asked about it. And found a girl I knew behind the counter, the very
    same girl who used to make fresh jalebis at Ambala! She said Ambala was
    closed, there was some "reorganizing" in progress, "United Cafe" would
    open in its place... but the sweets and savouries provided in the space
    would no longer be from Ambala of London :-(

    Seeing the awful disappointment on my face, she probably tried to console
    me - she claimed the new place would have sweets "even better than
    Ambala's". We'll see, I doubt it. Ambala had, IMHO, the best sweets bar
    none in Chicago - a couple of individual items may have been better at
    Tahoora, but IMHO the kaju-katri, the ras-malai, the jalebis, and a couple
    of the halwas (in particular the fig and dry-fruit halwas) were all quite
    outstanding. They'll be badly missed.

    c8w
  • Post #16 - April 24th, 2007, 7:33 am
    Post #16 - April 24th, 2007, 7:33 am Post #16 - April 24th, 2007, 7:33 am
    ^ This post made me use "adult language". :x

    Terrible news, though I must say not altogether surprising. Whether it was the location, the slightly higher prices, or something else (lack of chaat?) this place was always pretty much deserted when I came by. From time to time they would get large orders for weddings, etc., but I guess not enough to save them. :(

    Truly a shame, because as the posts above point out, many of the offerings were head and shoulders above anything else in town. In particular, the buffalo milk ras malai was the best I've ever had.

    This just sucks. :cry:
  • Post #17 - April 24th, 2007, 8:56 am
    Post #17 - April 24th, 2007, 8:56 am Post #17 - April 24th, 2007, 8:56 am
    Indeed. Reading through this thread got me amped to make a visit tonight, only to come upon the sad news that it is no more.

    I would blame the location before anything else - even with my great love of good Indian sweets, I found it inconvenient to get there.
  • Post #18 - April 24th, 2007, 10:57 am
    Post #18 - April 24th, 2007, 10:57 am Post #18 - April 24th, 2007, 10:57 am
    A while back I ate on Devon, then went for a walk down the street going into every sweet shop I saw. Ambala was my favorite, for their selection and the quality of the sweets. I really liked the pistachio candy and gulab jamun. I saw several people in line eyeing the jalebis like they were crack. I didn't know what they were, and they looked like bright orange hard candy, so I passed. If I had known they wre deep fried dough I would have definately tried them.

    So, since Ambala is gone, what's the next best place for sweets on Devon? I really love gulab jamun. Who makes those, and the jalebis, well?

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