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In search of Lonavala Chikki

Design gets done. Photo: Amruta Byatnal  

It’s difficult to plan a trip to a hill station, and that too one tucked in the lush Sahyadri range, with the knowledge that you are not there for Nature; worse, that you shouldn’t allow it to distract you in any way. Focus on chikki I tell myself as the train pulls out of Pune. Luckily, this is not so hard — the sweet smell of groundnut and jaggery is in the air at every railway station, with enthusiastic chikki sellers trying to make a sale.

As I reach Lonavala, the large number of chikki shops that are strung out in the tiny lanes is daunting. Worse, every second one is called Maganlal Chikki — an attempt to cash in on the legacy of Maganlal Seth, the man to have pioneered chikki-making here.

Luckily, I have already done some research and fixed an appointment with Ashok Agarwal of Maganlal Chikki. We meet in the factory, not too far away from the town. My first question is the obvious one — how did Lonavala and chikki get affixed in our food consciousness? Ashok launches into a story of his great grandfather Maganlal Agarwal. Back in the early 1900s, when the railway line had just started operating between Mumbai and Lonavala, Maganlal Agarwal owned a modest Mithai shop in town. Back then, a relatively crude variety of chikki called gud dani, contained the same simple ingredients — peanuts, jaggery and ghee — and was popular with travellers.

As a result, the Railways decided to sell packaged gud dani in the train. Thrilled about the exposure that their gud dani was to receive, Agarwal and his brothers renamed it Maganlal Chikki. The sweet, however, took on the name of the town, the identity now inextricably forged.

At the factory, Ganpat Sawant, speaks with pride about the fact there are no machines involved in chikki-making, which he regards as a labour of love. “It’s all in the strength of the hands,” he says. Sawant, now almost 70, has been working at the factory from the time he was 20.

The magic in his hands is evident as he stirs a big pot of jaggery, ghee, coarse groundnut powder, and liquid glucose until it reaches the right consistency. The mixture is then poured on to a chikki board and groundnuts spread over it. After rolling with a pin, Sawant cuts the chikkis into neat pieces. Did he catch me salivating as he brought over the hot plate of freshly cut chikkis to me?

Groundnut chikki is what chikkis are about, but they now come in a wide variety: Mint, sesame, even chocolate. The factory sells to many of the Maganlal Chikki outlets in town, a piece of information that should allay the anxieties of travellers in search of the original Lonavala Chikki.

Interestingly, most of the other shops acknowledge that it was Maganlal Seth who started it all and that they are just glad to follow.

Taste Tip: Visit Lonavala just after the rain, chikkis will taste much better in the cool, post monsoon mountain air!



HOW IT’S MADE

For the adventurous cooks who want to try making chikki at home, here is the recipe from trusted Ganpat, albeit scaled down to home proportions:

Ingredients

1/2 cup groundnuts

1/3 cup jaggery

1.5 tsp ghee

Method

Roast the groundnuts till they are light golden in colour. Cool and peel the skin. Keep some aside, and grind the rest to a coarse powder. Heat ghee in a pan and add jaggery. Simmer over a slow flame, and wait for it to caramelise. Add the groundnut powder and mix it thoroughly with the melted jaggery. You may need to put out the flame during this process.

When the mixture is ready, pour the entire mixture over a greased plate or a smooth stone surface. Add some more groundnuts on top. Roll it out into thin sheets using a greased rolling pin. When cool, cut into square pieces. Store and eat at leisure.

A fortnightly feature on food and the places that made them famous.

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 4:43:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/in-search-of-lonavala-chikki/article3613222.ece

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