We lunch at a hole-in-the-wall biryani outlet at Zam Bazaar with one eye on the plate and another on a shop that stands across the road. It’s almost 2 pm on a Friday and the owners of Basha Halwawala have gone for their afternoon prayers at a mosque nearby. We hope to be the first ones to taste their speciality — the dam-ka roat halwa — once they open. But by the time we hop over — it’s not even 2.05 pm — it’s already crowded. That’s when we realise that the famed halwa has been drawing people with invisible strings even from behind the downed shutters. What makes this dessert so special?
“Our family has been making the halwa for 90 years,” says 59-year-old N Jalaludeen, who runs the shop. His sons Moin and Anwar are ladling out the halwa, placed in aluminium trays, to customers. “My grandfather’s father started the tradition of making the sweet,” he adds. Basha, the man behind it all, started the venture in a thatch-roofed shop at the same spot.
“I’ve heard that he made a small quantity at home and sold it on banana leaves for ₹ 1 and ₹ 2 a serving,” recalls 32-year-old Moin, who has heard several stories about Basha.
“The plate in which he stored the halwa was this small,” he says, holding his palms about 15 inches apart. Today, though, the halwa comes in trays 10 times the size. Jalaludeen says they sell around five plates a day, each holding 10kilograms of halwa.
The dessert is strictly a family affair. “The women in our family make it in our kitchens. Only the koya is outsourced,” explains Moin. “They are making halwa as we speak,” he adds. Fresh batches keep replacing the empty trays at a steady pace till 4 pm, when the stoves are shut down and the women call it a day. The shop also sells a variety of sweets and condiments.
Seated at the cash counter with a white beard and a skull cap, Jalaludeen is a man of few words. “Next question?” he asks, as soon as he answers one. He’s given countless interviews throughout his life and is impatient with people, other than his customers, crowding the glass-fronted shelves of his shop.
“Rava (semolina), sugarless koya, and ghee,” he states, when asked about the halwa’s ingredients. The sweet derives its name from the fact that it’s cooked over dum like biryani. It is made on a mud stove with coal as the fuel, according to Jalaludeen.
“Did you try it?” asks Moin, offering a small scoop of the halwa in butter paper. It’s chestnut brown, with tinges of deep brown from the burnt top layer (probably from the dum), and drizzled with pumpkin seeds. We have our first spoon. Sticky, grainy, with an underlying milky taste of the koya, and just the right amount of sweetness; the halwa lives up to its reputation. “What do you think?” asks Moin. We just smile in response, and take another spoonful. You see, it’s impossible to speak with dam-ka roat halwa in front of us.