Gajar Ka Halwa- Dipped In History
Image Credit: Gajar ka halwa

Come winter and market is loaded with bright red juicy carrots. Though winter gets the credit for many sweets like Gondh Ke Laddoo, Pinni, Panjiri, Daulat Ki Chaat and more but in all of these Gajar ka halwa tops the list and is everyone’s favorite. 

Before we understand how this dish became a national sweetdish, let’s see how halwa came to India. This handcrafted dessert first sees its origin in 13th century in Middle-East in the book Arabic Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) where Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan Ibn al-Karīm do mentions few varieties of halwa recipes. Tracing back the history the word Halwa comes from the word “Hulw” meaning sweet. Legends believe that the process of cooking halwa can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s said that the sultan of the empire maintained an exclusive kitchen for cooking sweets. At that point of time Halwa was supposed to be prepared only with three ingredients - starch, fat and sweetener. While some say that this dish trace back to the Byzantine empire sometime before the 12th century CE. In all the recipe traces that one finds sugar was the common sweetener that was used. Dates, nuts and other spices were used to add to flavour and taste to the dish. 

Colleen Taylor Sen in her book ‘Feasts and Fasts’, writes that the Halwa arrived in India during the Delhi Sultanate, early 13th to the mid-16th century. Also in the book  ‘Guzishta Lucknow’, it does mention that halwa came to India from the Arabic lands via Persia. In Hyderabad, Hameedi Confectioners that sells Jouzi halwa is supposed to have Turkish connection as the shop was set up by someone who has Turkish ancestry.

Today the country sees numerous variety of halwa right from Gosht ka halwa to ‘Hari Mirch ka Halwa’ from Pune, ‘Cholar Dal Halwa’ from West Bengal, ‘Anda Halwa’ from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, ‘Kashi Halwa’ from Karnataka and so on but still Gajar ka halwa is surely unbeatable. 

And this iconic dish finds it’s trace in Medieval India. As known as Gajrela, this sweet pudding-sees grated carrots that’s slowly simmered in milk cooked with generous dose of sugar, dry fruits and mawa and of course not to miss ghee, this traditional dish from the Mughal era that now falls into a dessert category was called Mughlai Mithai (Mughlai Sweetmeats). Apart from the iconic red carrot halwa the kali gajar aka halwa or the black carrot halwa is favorite of the old Lucknow-walahs. Not many know that black carrots have warming effects and also that Black carrots werethe only carrots known to mankind for a very long time. 

The halwa surely has seen quiet a journey and this dish called by different names like halava in Sanskrit, Halawa in Egypt, Makedonikos Halvas in Greece, and so on do you know that in Egypt, the same ‘halawa’ was a truffle-shaped dish made with just ghee, flour, and sugar. And yes any form of halwa is always a delight.