Gwalior’s Bahadura laddoo may soon be a thing of the past.
The sweet is as much a part of weddings of the well-heeled in Chambal as are twirled moustaches and 12-bore double-barrelled shotguns. In Gwalior, the Bahadura laddoo stands next only to the legendary medieval musician Tansen for the respect it commands.
“The former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee used to come here when he studied at Victoria College (now Maharani Laxmi Bai College), at least twice a week. He continued even when he became a politician. We were kids then, but I remember that he loved the laddoos,” says A.P. Sharma, who manages the famous Bahadur Sweets.
The laddoo is named after his father, the late Bahadur Prasad Sharma, who left his village Kanauwon ka Pura in Bhind as a child and worked at a sweet shop in Allahabad.
“He learnt the art of making laddoos there, before shifting to Gwalior at the age of 18. He opened his shop in Naya Bazar around 80 years ago,” says his younger son Bhagwan Saran Sharma, who supervises the halwais at work. The shop functions from rented premises in Naya Bazar in Gwalior’s Lashkar locality.
The principal ingredient of the laddoo is chickpea flour or besan. The exact proportions, ingredients and technique are a guarded secret. The halwais have been with the Sharmas for decades. As they say in the Chambal “loyalty is an inheritance that is never to be squandered”. The chickpea batter is poured on to a sieve and tapped over a large wok with boiling ghee on a coal-heated stove. “It has to be coal, nothing else,” says A.P. Sharma, Bahadur’s oldest son. “Everything affects the boondi.”
Globules of batter drop into the ghee and are taken out with a large perforated spoon, called jhara, when the air bubbles stop. The boondi is then immersed in sugar syrup and later rolled into laddoos. “We have maintained the purity and consistency as far as possible. But nowadays ghee is not made the traditional way by extracting butter from curd and then making ghee from it” says Sharma.
But he says this family tradition may not last long. “The price hike is killing us. Workers need to be paid more, ingredients cost more and the price can’t be hiked too much. It’s already Rs. 300 a kilo, and it messes up family budgets during festivals. “It will continue as long as we four brothers are alive. But workers don’t want to work in the heat and grime anymore. Our kids are lawyers and engineers and want to work in MNCs. They are right. There’s no profit anymore. We just break even.”
The trouble with the laddoo is that the dominating sweet taste can be relished only if you eat it at the shop. It is served hot with ghee and sugar syrup oozing from it. The sphere of boondi is lightly packed and falls apart if poked too much. When cooled, the ghee solidifies and the spheres often disintegrate. This is a killjoy as it’s near impossible to roll it back into a sphere without a trained halwai hand.
The laddoo unfortunately has also eclipsed another Bahadura gem. The Bahadura kachori is a smaller and less spicy version of the popular savoury. It is served without any accompaniment only until 9.00 a.m. Stuffed with lentils, cumin seeds and other secret ingredients, it is the best breakfast one can have. Gwalior residents claim that only the best chefs can rustle up such a fine breakfast. True indeed!