Do You Know About This Habshi Halwa That Has Transcended Indo-Pak Borders?
Image Credit: The halwa might have a problematic etymology but has managed to touch the chords of both hearts.

We all are aware of the havoc that Partition wrecked on both the countries, India and Pakistan. What was supposed to be a peaceful division of the country turned into a nightmare with bloodshed and mass killings. Going by this logic, it only seems natural that people from the Partition era shudder at the mention of the gore realities. Amidst this separation, it was the people and land that got divided. The culture of the two nations continues to remain entangled with each other, bringing us closer time and again. 

Such is the tale of this special culinary delight called Habshi Halwa. The curiously-named dessert is believed to be an Indian and Pakistani favourite. For those untouched by the phenomenon of halwa, it is a confectionary item that traces its origins back to the Arabs who used to call it hulw. From a simplistic Middle-Eastern creation of dates and milk, the halwa has undergone several modifications, alterations and adaptations to suit the taste buds of the eaters. 

My favourite is the atte ka halwa that my grandmother makes on Gurupurab every year. A very basic wheat and nuts combination, the wheat is stirred continuously along with ghee to gain a thick consistency. Then there is moong dal halwa which is a tedious task to make but the taste is oh-so good. Rich and filling, there are uncountable weddings where I have gorged on it to my heart’s content. Just like these halwas hold a special place in my life, Habshi halwa is believed to have a huge role to play in connecting the two nations. 

Of Meanings And Origins 

The word habshi is originally borrowed from Urdu language. Furthermore, the roots of the term lie in the Persian or Arabic word habashi which was used to refer to dark-skinned people, particularly black people adn Africans. The lack of social awareness and prevalent stereotypes in that era led to the naming of the dish in such a racist manner. The reason given was simple; the colour of the halwa turned out to be dark brown when it was finally ready and so, taking reference from its appearance it was named Habshi Halwa. 

While the actual origins of the halwa remain unclear, there have been several speculations about its historical links. On one hand, it is believed to be invented during the Mughal era, while some others treat it as a legacy of the Nawabs of Hyderabad. Punjab is also one of the considerations for its birthplace. Wherever it originated, the fact that remains is that it continues to be a popular mithai on both sides of the border. 

The Specialty Of The Halwa 

Made with milk and sprouted wheat, Habshi halwa is a rich and creamy affair. While the hot and heavy confection is treated as a winter classic, the immense demand for it makes it available all year round. The sugar is caramelized over low flame which lends the halwa its dark, habshi colour, after which wheat, ghee, milk and edible gum are stirred for long hours in a huge kadhai to prepare this delectable halwa. From kesar to cardamom and nutmeg, it is these additions that give this sweet its decadent flavours. 

The complex variations of sticky and chewy that enter your mouth once you take a bite of this delectable dessert make you ponder over the similarities with other sweet-meats across the globe. What comes to mind is the Dulche de Leche. Originally a Spanish dessert, there are numerous adaptations of the same. Dulche de Leche is essentially an Indian milk peda. So this Habshi halwa can be thought of as a sub-continental version of the Spanish sweet dish. 

Given its rich texture and potent ingredients, it is no wonder that Habshi Halwa is called the Shehjada or crown prince of all halwas.