Malpua: The Story Of Perhaps The Oldest Indian Dessert Ever Known
Image Credit: The Indian sweet pancake is the oldest dessert, around 3000 years old.

Dipped in oodles of sugar syrup, malpua was born in the lap of rich desi ghee in the texts of 1500 BCE Rigveda. The oldest Indian dessert that has stood the test of time and evolved into the sweet Indian pancake of today finds mentions in the 3000 year old Vedic literature that talk about apupa. This was the most primitive form of malpua, made with deep-fried barley flour and sweetened with honey. For the uninitiated, malpua is a deep-fried Indian pancake that is sweetened with a thick sugar syrup also called chashni. I tried malpua for the first time in Jaipur’s Chokhi Dhani. Oozing of sugar, the dessert spelled sheer indulgence. 

Although I don’t have a sweet tooth, this dessert was definitely something that I couldn’t resist. One after the other, I had a couple of these miniature-sized Indian pancakes till my stomach ached. That’s when I thought that malpua must be a Rajasthani specialty. To my amazement, this heavy dessert has as rich a history as its taste. The apupas of Rigveda were made of barley which was one of the most respected forms of grain for the Aryans and highly-consumed during that period. Over time, the 2nd century saw wheat-flour based malpuas that were sweetened with sugarcane juice, which is highlighted in A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food by late food historian KT Achaya. Around the same time, another wheat version of malpua emerged as pupalike, small flat cakes stuffed with jaggery. 

The character of this sweet dish underwent various changes and it took shape as the present-day malpua served with dry fruits and rabdi much later. Did you know that the same sweet dish is eaten across India on diverse festivals like Holi, Diwali and Eid in different parts of the country? This Indian dessert transcended regional boundaries to become an accompaniment for mutton and chicken curry in Bihar during Holi as well as an egg and mawa dish in Islamic courts. Bengalis prepare a flour and milk combination during Poush Sankranti which is deemed as malpua in the region. 

The interesting bit is that the same malpua is a holy offering at Lord Jagannath’s temple in Odisha every morning where it served as amalu to the God and also forms an integral part of the famous Chhappan Bhog. The Buddhist and Jain texts of ancient times also refer to apupas which would be served as a welcome treat for the guests. 

Not only has the malpua enamoured Indians with its rich and decadent flavours, the dessert has managed to reach to other South Asian nations too. 

1.  India

In India, you’ll find a great diversity of malpuas. From Bohri community’s egg maplua during Ramazan, the atta and banana combination in Odisha to sweet potato aloor maplua in Bengal and rabdi malpua in Rajasthan, you will be spoilt for choice. 

2.  Bangladesh 

The Bangladeshis love their malpuas with fresh fruits. Bananas are mashed into the wheat mixture and a fruity malpua is served to the guests and family members during festive occasions. 

3.  Pakistan 

The Pakistani version of malpua is similar to Bohri community in India. A dessert that is loved during Eid and Ramazan, malpua is paired with egg and mawa and given a rich and thick texture. 

4.  Nepal 

The Nepalese Marpa is a reflection of the region’s flavours. Made with bananas and fennel seeds, hints of peppercorn balance the taste of milk and sugar.