Traditional treats take the bite out of Pakistan’s winter chill

Islamabad: Every season has its own colours and specialities but winters bring special delight for the food lovers in Pakistan who embrace the chilly weather with warm desserts.

To overcome the chill in the air, many people rush to local food stalls to enjoy traditional winter delicacies. Some remain indoors to enjoy home-made desserts which are also known for their health benefits.

Deliciously rich gajar ka halwa (carrot dessert), creamy Kashmiri tea and fresh gulab jamun are some of the favourite winter delights across the country. Here are some of the top winter delicacies of Pakistan that are as delicious as they are healthy.

Gajar ka Halwa

The sweet aroma of gajar ka halwa from the home kitchen is one the first signs of arrival of winter in Pakistan. Winters in the country are considered incomplete without gajar ka halwa.

Legend has it that gajar ka halwa was first introduced by Sikhs from Punjab to the house of the Mughals. The Mughal emperors loved the delicious dessert for its vibrant colour, incredible aroma, and creamy texture — from where the halwa sweetness spread throughout the empire and neighbouring regions.

This halwa is fulsome as it is made by cooking grated carrots with ghee, khoya (thickened milk), sugar and nuts. In Pakistan, the creamy dessert, served with white khoya (dried whole milk), can be seen at food markets in all major cities in winter. “There are many food options in winter but gajar ka halwa is the most favourite among local people,” Hamid Khan, vendor at Shikarpuri Sweets in Islamabad said.

Kashmiri chai

There is nothing more soothing and delightful than a cup of Kashmiri chai (tea) on a chilly winter night. This pink tea is made from tealeaves similar to green tea — but the taste is distinctive. It has creamy texture with a slightly salty, nutty taste and lasting warm sensation.

Traditionally, Kashmiri tea is prepared in a copper kettle called a Samovar in which tea leaves, milk, salt, pistachios, cardamom and cinnamon are mixed together and cooked for a long time.

“It involves a lengthy cooking process and special technique which is why people prefer to have it from restaurants or food stalls rather brew at home” explains Salma Tabbasum, a teacher and food lover from Rawalpindi.

Panjeeri

Panjeeri — also known as the Punjabi winter treat — is a nutritious dessert which keeps people warm in the winters. Made of almonds, walnuts, semolina, sugar, desi ghee and others herbs, this dry and crunchy sweet treat is quite similar to a traditional halwa.

“Panjeeri is especially nutritious and beneficial for nursing mothers. But the taste makes everyone love it,” says Saeed Ahmad, who owns a sweet shop in Saddar. “Although we make Panjeeri only in the winter, some people request to have it in summer too.”

Gulab jamun

Nothing beats the winter blues like a piping hot bowl of gulab jamuns. This melt-in-the-mouth dessert is considered the king of desserts in Pakistan. Gulab Jamuns originated in Persia and the Mediterranean from where this sweet delight travelled and became popular in medieval India. The dessert is known to be derived from a Persian dish, according to the culinary historian Michael Krondl. One story suggests that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s personal chef invented the dish. “Gulab” is derived from the Persian word gol (flower) and ab (water) whereas “Jamun” is the Urdu word for Syzygium cumini, a fruit also known as the Java plum.

This dessert is made with khoya, or thickened milk, and coated with almonds and pistachios. The scrumptious brown coloured soft sweet balls are served with warm sugar syrup.

“Being a food lover, I have many personal favourites. But there is nothing like cherishing the weekend with soft and spongy gulab jamuns drenched in the sugar syrup,” says Umair Hashmi, a Pakistani chef.

Doodh jalebi

Circular and wiggly jalebis are a special favourite in the winter season. Jalebi are basically pretzel shaped sweets which are deep fried, dipped in sugar syrup and served hot.

The history of this juicy dessert has many sweet twists. Though many think it’s a local culinary creation, its history goes back to Persia, where it was known as Zulubiya. It was first documented in the 13th century in Mohammad Bin Hassan Al Baghdadi’s Arab cookbook of the Abbasid period called Kitabal Tabikh (The Book of Dishes). With more than 500 years of history behind it, Jalebi travelled to the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal era through cultural and trade exchanges.

In winters, Pakistanis enjoy this sweet snack with milk thus giving it the name doodh jalebi (milk jalebi).

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