Food

The Halwa kadais of Madurai

SWEET TREAT: The Nagapattinam Original Halwa shop. Photo: G. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

Those were the times! When moms talked about the numerous flours, you knew Deepavali was round the corner. A week before the festival, the women would dish out the ubiquitous athirasams and murukkus. Though home-made sweets dominated the flavour of the festival, there were a few shops that managed to hold forth. These hole-in-the-wall sweet shops were the places where people flocked to buy bagfuls of the new sweet – the Halwa! Festival time or on ordinary days, the sweet-toothed made a beeline for it. The century-old Halwa kadais of Madurai haven’t changed. The recipes are the same. If anything, the fan following has increased. This festive season Metro Plus team stepped inside some of these age old shops to catch the unmistakable aroma of pure ghee and sugar and also peep into the history.

Nagapattinam Original Halwa Shop

When K.S. Vishwanatha Iyer came to Madurai from Kumbakonam in 1901, Halwa was hardly a known sweet in the temple town. Iyer came armed with the recipe from Nagapattinam and set up a 10 by 8 sweet shop opposite the Amman Sannidhi. The joint became a household name in no time. “Over the years, the shop came to be called as ‘Ambi Iyer kadai’, as my father popularised the Halwa in a huge way,” says V.A. Venkatraman, a fourth generation member running the shop now. The kadai shifted to a new address opposite the West Tower in 1942. It has the distinction of being patronised by celebrities such as M.S. Subbulakshmi, MGR and several other popular cine-actors.

Apart from the Halwa, the shop is also known for potato masala that sells like hot cakes. The daily rush at noon for this perfect side dish for curd rice is to be seen to be believed.

Prema Vilas

Gangaram Singh belonging to a small village near Tenkasi set Prema Vilas opposite the Madurai junction in 1954. “We belong to the family from Punjab that introduced the Halwa to Tirunelveli,” says Sashidharan Singh, one of the partners. “My grandfather Gangaram mastered making super-soft halwa. He once took a picture of his grand daughter slurping a blob of halwa and made it the logo for our brand.” Apart from wheat halwa, Prema Vilas is famous for the mota mixture. A handful of the mixture is given as complimentary to people who eat Halwa at the shop. The trademark of Prema Vilas is to serve piping hot halwa in dried mandharai (Mountain ebony) leaves. The leaf, which has medicinal qualities, adds a faint fragrance to the halwa.

Happyman Iyengar Halwa Kadai

In 1957, V. Natarajan started a coffee stall opposite the Chockanathar temple. Soon he was joined by an elderly cook Sethuraman Iyengar, who offered to make sweets. “The first halwa he made is still fresh in my memory. It was mind-blowing,” says Natarajan. “For people visiting the temple then, it was a ritual to stop at our shop for a bite of the halwa.” It goes on the same way.

During a visit to Mysore, a wooden statue of laughing Buddha caught Natarajan’s attention. He registered it as his shop’s logo in 1960 naming it the ‘happy man’. Happyman halwa has two branches in the city equally popular for the cashew halwa and savouries like kara-chev, mixture, cheedai and thattai .

Narsingh Sweets

Though a fairly recent one when compared to the other old sweet shops, Narsingh sweets within a span of 15 years has become synonymous with north-Indian sweets. Jeevaraj Rajpurohit, a Marwari came to the city with the idea of starting a stationery business. He did but only to close down soon. When he sensed good market for the north-Indian milk sweets, he decided to take a plunge and brought 10 cooks from his hometown. “We make many varieties of Rajasthani, Gujarati and Delhi sweets,” says Jeevaraj. The kachoris, mal-pua, milk-cake, peda and various other milk-made sweets are a hit among the Madurai sweet lovers.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 3:00:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/the-halwa-kadais-of-madurai/article6511316.ece

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