Food

Muscoth halwa turns 50

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 7) In large vats, maida and coconut milk are mixed and stirred for two hours to reach the right density

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 7) In large vats, maida and coconut milk are mixed and stirred for two hours to reach the right density   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

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Coconut milk, maida and sugar are combined into a delicious alchemy of flavour inspired by Sri Lanka, and perfected in Mudalur, a small village in Thoothukudi district

About 55 kilometreskms south of Thoothukudi main town, in a sleepy little hamlet called Mudalur, Muscoth halwa is prepared every day. This year, the unique halwa, turns 50.

As the weekend begins, the village barely shows signs of activity, other than outside the family-owned AJJ and SJ sweet shops, where original muscoth halwa is made and sold.

The sweet indulgence Customers wait outside the AJJ halwa shop in existence from 1969

The sweet indulgence Customers wait outside the AJJ halwa shop in existence from 1969   | Photo Credit: N RAJESH

A Joseph, who passed away in 2002, at the age of 78, is credited for bringing this halwa to Mudalur from Ceylon where it was a popular sweet over 100 years ago. In Sinhalese, muscoth is coconut milk. He discovered it during his trips to Sri Lanka in the 1950s and liked the taste so much that he got the recipe from shops there — and satiated his craving by making it himself at home once he returned. However, he replaced wheat with maida (refined flour) and added coconut milk, sugar and cashew nut powder for a distinct flavour.

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 3) Coconuts are machine grated

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 3) Coconuts are machine grated   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

“It was an instant hit, but he never sold it,” says Sam D Christopher, shop manager for over two decades. Joseph made the halwa at home for years and shared it only with his family and friends. On special occasions he distributed it among the villagers. “Whoever ate it appreciated it each time and Joseph continued to treat everybody to his homemade halwa,” says Sam.

Making of Muscoth halwa (Step 4) The main ingredient, rich coconut milk is extracted

Making of Muscoth halwa (Step 4) The main ingredient, rich coconut milk is extracted   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

But Joseph’s son, J Jeyaseelan, sensed a business opportunity in the sweet his father excelled in preparing. So, in 1969, he set up a small production unit and a shop called AJJ Sweets. In the beginning, the halwa was made manually but as its popularity and demand grew, production was gradually mechanised in 2001. Sam remembers eating the halwa from the shop as a child. The second, smaller SJ sweet shop was established in 2000 and is managed by Jeyaseelan’s nephews, Simon and Johnson, who run their own production unit. “We have no branches,” says Simon Joseph, who started working in this business two decades ago.

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 5) The maida dough is soaked in water in handis for two hours to extract maida milk

Making of muscoth halwa (Step 5) The maida dough is soaked in water in handis for two hours to extract maida milk   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

The family supplies muscoth halwa every day to over 400 sweet shops across Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi , Trichy, Madurai, Theni, Nagercoil, Coimbatore and Chennai in Tamil Nadu and few shops in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram besides exporting to Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai based on specific orders from customers. “Almost 50% of the stock is sold in Tuticorin, Nagercoil and Tirunelveli. The remaining goes across Tamil Nadu,” says Sam.

Through the day, from 8 am to 6 pm, customers walk in and out with packs of halwa, because in Mudalur, they say, eating muscoth halwa — which contains no ghee — is not an indulgence. Rather, it is a staple, and many locals drop in twice a day to eat a little halwa, sold in sealed packs of 50 grams only at the AJJ shop and priced at ₹10 each. It is never sold open or hot off the tray over the counter. The piece of halwa serves as an instant energy bar or any time snack. It also makes for a satisfying dessert. Bulk orders that are sent out, are readied in shifts every day. Anywhere outside Thoothukudi, it is sold for ₹275/kg while in Mudalur it is priced at ₹180/kg.

The story of Muscoth halwa
 

A State bus stops right at the door, and few passengers get down and walk to AJJ counter to buy the halwa. The bus waits for them. Across the road is a primary school. As the bell rings, signalling the end of the school day, children run to the shop for their share. Standing at AJJ sales counter, it is challenging to gauge the size of the business today. With an annual turnover of approximately ₹6 crore, muscoth halwa has a texture and taste that combines the best features of Bombay Karachi halwa, Tirunelveli Halwa and Ramnad nudhal. It is neither too grainy or hard, nor too soft and slippery. The gelatinous texture melts in your mouth with the first bite, leaving a sweet lingering flavour of coconut milk. It is gooey but does not stick to your palate, instead dissolving in a satisfying orchestra of flavour.

George Miller, whom everybody calls the Master, has been with the family since 1995. He learnt the recipe from Joseph, mastered it under Jeyaseelan, then single-handedly prepared it and now supervises the preparation and the staff. “From the smell or colour of the halwa, I can tell whether the batch has come out perfect,” he says, walking through rooms where the halwa is being made, to demonstrate the different stages of productionA strong aroma ofthickened coconut milk wafts across.

Making of muscoth halwa Next morning the slabs of halwa are cut into pieces of required size

Making of muscoth halwa Next morning the slabs of halwa are cut into pieces of required size   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

“The halwa is in demand through the year and on an average, we make 1,500 kilograms every day,” he says. During Deepavali, Christmas, Pongal or the wedding season, the demand doubles. A lot of planningcalculation goes in preparing such huge quantities, says Miller.

Making of muscoth halwa The slabs of halwa are measured and cut into pieces at AJJ production unit

Making of muscoth halwa The slabs of halwa are measured and cut into pieces at AJJ production unit   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

There is a riot of aroma inside the small factory in the backyard, where the halwa is prepared in four batches through the day. “But it is never sold the same day. It is set to cool overnight and packed for sale only the next morning,” says Miller.

Packaging the muscoth halwa at AJJ unit

Packaging the muscoth halwa at AJJ unit   | Photo Credit: N Rajesh

The halwa takes less than a day to make but stays good for three weeks at room temperature, he adds.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:42:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/muscoth-halwa-turns-50/article30038664.ece

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