How Arabia's Luqmat-Al-Kadi Became India’s Gulab Jamun
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The golden-brown, squishy morsels of gulab jamun bursting with syrup is an indulgence that most of us might have had the pleasure of experiencing. Scented with rose syrup and flavoured with saffron, the decadent Indian dessert – as most might know, isn’t native to Indian cuisine. In fact, one can go so far as to say that the creation of the gulab jamun is a multi-cultural fusion which borrows the best from Turkish, Greek and Mughal cultures – to make something that is uniquely reflective of the kind of sweets which went on to enjoy popular appreciation.

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Much like the gulab jamun here, Greece had its own version of the dessert, known as Loukmades. Being one of the oldest recorded desserts in Greek history, these deep-fried honey puffs were even given to Olympic winners as a way of celebration ages ago. Served with Greek cheese, chocolate and walnuts, the loukmades were slightly different than the lokmas served in Turkey with a drizzle of honey – and sometimes with walnuts or pistachios. Where the gulab jamun finally found its way to India, was through the Mughals.

Folklore suggests that Shah Jahan’s cook was the man whose brainchild the recipe for the original gulab jamun came from. Drawing inspiration from the Persians, the addition of rose water or ‘gul’ meaning rose and ‘ab’ meaning water came through. According to the book The Donut: History, Recipes and Lore, From Boston to Berlin by Michael Krondl, the batter for the Indian gulab jamun seemed more complex than its Middle Eastern counterpart. Using a mixture of dried and fresh milk thickened with flour unlike Iran, where the mixture was deep-fried and soaked in a rosewater syrup.

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What’s also interesting to note about the journey of the gulab jamun is the Colonial influence which inspired Kolkata’s Bhim Chandra Nag to prepare an elongated version for Lady Canning – the wife of Governor General Charles Canning. The cylindrical shape of the gulab jamun, which went on to be referred to as the ledikeni – a mispronunciation of the governor’s wife’s name by the locals, went on to become equally relished for its liberal usage of chenna for the dough. While loukmade and lokmas had a slightly chewy texture due to the dough not soaking up the syrup, the gulab jamun has a soft, giving texture when bitten into.