Near JAMA Masjid, in Bazaar Chitli Qabar, is an Old Delhi shop selling an unusual halwa. Sheeren Bhawan, which is best known for the halwas it makes and sells only in winter, has on its menu a white carrot halwa. “You won’t find this elsewhere. People ask us if we have used some colour with red carrots, but we don’t. The white is less sweeter than the red, and that’s probably why it is so popular with people,” says its third-generation owner, Alauddin. His uncle, Shijauddin, had come across four farmers in Uttar Pradesh, who grow these white carrots. “Only two of them are alive today, and they have not shared the seeds with anyone,” he adds. The winter season at the shop, which opens at 6 am and closes at midnight, starts off with lal gajar ka halwa, as the white carrots arrive a little late by mid-December, but then safed gajar ka halwa is served till February, which is usually when the stock of white carrots is over.
Sheeren Bhawan’s other halwas are as popular, such as those based on traditional remedies prescribed by hakims. These are made of aloe vera, or gond (edible gum), apart from habshi halwa, which is brown in colour and made by curdling milk and wheat flour along with cardamom and saffron. “My grandfather had connections with different hakims and we got the recipes from them, which we use till date,” says Alauddin, 77, who refers to aloe vera halwa as “cactus ka halwa”. There’s a special version of this halwa made with more spices and dried nuts like cashew, pistachio, almond and pine. “Many hakims later approached us, enquiring how we remove aloe vera’s bitterness, but that is our secret formula. Very few people know about it,” he says. The special halwa, today, costs Rs 1,600 per kg and the usual one is for Rs 700 per kg, up from Rs 800 and Rs 400, respectively, two decades ago.
Alauddin says that the shop had already existed for a few years when he was born in 1942. His grandfather Fayazuddin, a Delhi native and ghee seller, had set up the shop. Eventually, Fayaz’s sons, Shijauddin and Tajuddin, took over the business. They had another brother Ghiyasuddin who went missing during communal riots in 1947. “No one knows what happened with him, no one ever found his body,” says Alauddin, whose sons Adnan and Mateen Qureshi are also now involved in the business.
Sheeren Bhawan also sells a number of Bengali sweets, such as rosogolla and cham cham, demand for which has grown over the last two decades. Also available are sweets such as khajla and pheni, flour-based preparations especially prepared during Ramzan. Alauddin bemoans the lack of interest in old mithais, such as maisu, made with khoya or besan and dipped in ghee. There was also reshmi laddu, just like boondi laddu, but “for every one part of boondi, it had double the khoya”, and makkhan bade, which were like balushahi but filled with sugar syrup. With a decrease in demand, they had stopped making these years ago.
Growing health consciousness among customers, says Alauddin, has changed how they make their sweets. “A few years back, people would eat halwa puri for breakfast here. For every 100 gm of halwa, they would ask us to add 100 gm ghee. Now they tell us to reduce the ghee as much as possible,” he says.
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