Story of People’s Favorite- Gulab Jamun

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By Apurba Rath

A perfect Gulab Jamun’s secret lies behinds its precise measurements of ingredients and without a doubt, practiced hands. Maida kneaded with Chenna (or Khoya), these fritters of joy are deep fried until they have the mouthwatering, rich color of golden brown! Magic happens when the heat from the oil leaves the sugar crystallized on the crunchy crust of the Gulab Jamun to give the signature grainy texture. Imagine that sugary crust over the satin white core of the Gulab Jamun!

History uncovers some intriguing possibilities about the roots of this much craved Indian sweet. The food history shares that the gulab jamun was accidentally made by Shah Jahan’s illustrious cook who took motivation from Persian/Turkish customs and nearby halwais.

Strangely enough, the Persian bamieh and the Turkish tulumba are both like the gulab jamun. These two desserts have unleavened fluffy lumps of dough which then is deep-fried and immersed in sugar syrup. But, as opposed to Gulab Jamun, these desserts are served cold! In any case, this might have been what propelled the Mughal cooks.

A hypothesis follows Gulab Jamun’s inception to the well-known Arabic sweet luqmat al qadi, which is prepared by deep frying dough balls which is further dunked in honey and sprinkled with sugar. The fritter batter, however, is quite different when compared to the Indian rendition.

Strangely, the name luqmat al qadi means “the judge’s morsel” — the sweet is viewed as sufficiently delectable to influence the assessment of a judge!

When the evolution of culture and exchange of cultural insights happened, one could see the hyperlocal varieties of the might Gulab Jamun. It mirrored the gastronomic advancements of that specific area.

As per the most famous story, in the late 1850s, Calcutta’s expert confectioner Bhim Chandra Nag was approached to set up a unique sweet for Lady Canning — the spouse of Governor General Lord Charles Canning (later the primary Viceroy of British India) — who was coming to India to be with her better half. By the act of God, or a genius or perhaps a mistake, ledikeni was conceived.

This unusual dessert caught the aristocratic Lady Canning’s attention and because of her fondness of the dessert. Thus, the locals called sweet treat as ‘LediKeni’ which was more of a mispronunciation of her name! Lady Canning served this delicate dessert in all her parties and gathering. It is also said that she is likely to popularize the dessert all over Bengal. Curiously, the state is additionally home to the pantua, which is essentially smaller than a usual gulab jamun loaded down with mishri.

No culinary writeup about Gulab Jamun is ever complete without the mention of the distant cousin, Kala Jaam or the Kala Jamun. This variant of Gulab Jamun has a purple-black color as opposed to the traditional golden-brown color. It is sweeter as there is an addition of sugar to the batter before deep frying it at a high temperature.

How about a gulab jamun now?