Indian food is quite popular outside the subcontinent. SeveralÂ cities all over the world now have Indian restaurants that serve Indian food which is almost as good if not better than the Indian food that is found in India itself. Given this wide ranging popularity of Indian food, it is rather surprising thatÂ Indian sweets havenâ€™t managed to secure theÂ kind of widespread appeal that dishes like â€˜chicken tikka masalaâ€™ and â€˜tandoori naanâ€™ (the most ordered dishes in Indian restaurants anywhere) seem to enjoy.
One of the reasons for this according to me, isÂ that the quality and taste of these sweetsÂ is very different outside the borders of the Indian subcontinent. Perhaps these differences stem from the ingredients which are used in the preparation of these sweets. Most Indian sweets are made with ample amounts of milk, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. These ingredients though widely available outside India, have subtle differences in taste and texture which perhaps contribute to the differences that arise in the finished product as well.
Another reason for the differences could also beÂ the fact that Indian sweets outside the borders of the Indian subcontinent seem to beÂ made by largely commercial enterprises while in India inÂ several places like Chandini Chowk in Delhi ( an area which is renowned for its indigenous street foods), these native Indian sweets continue to beÂ made by specialized sweet makers known as â€˜Halwaisâ€™. This art of sweet making is usually passed down through generations within those families who have been historically associated with the making and retailing of sweets.
Indian sweets are available in a wide variety of different shapes and forms as every ethnicÂ group that lives in the many different states of India has its own native cuisine and hence its own version of desert.
Listed below are some of the most popular Indian sweets which can found in the colorful sweet shops that are to be found in almost every village, town and city of the subcontinent.
This desertÂ Â which consists of a fried dough ball made of milk solids is popular all throughout India. The Gulab Jamun is usually served in sugar syrup which is flavored with rosewater or saffron. Its best enjoyed piping hot with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. A regional variation of the Gulab Jamun is the Kala Jamun or Black Jamun which has sugar as an additional ingredient to the dough. This sugar caramelizes when fried and gives the Jamun its almost black color.
This sweet which has several regional variations is bright orange or yellow in color and is made by frying pretzel shaped dough in piping hot oil. Jalebiâ€™s are best when they are freshly made as they have a tendency to get soggy very quickly. In the Western IndianÂ state of Gujarat, piping hot jalebis are eaten as a part of a breakfast meal and they are usually accompanied by chips made of gram flour which are called papdis. These papdisÂ help to temper theÂ intense sweetness of the jalebi.
Ladoos or Laddus are fried balls of flour and sugar which can be combined with various other ingredients like amaranth seeds, wheat flour, gram flour, cashews, almonds, raisins etc. Some laddus are even made from peanuts and sesame seeds which are onlyÂ combined with sugar syrup. Laddus are eaten not only as desert but are also distributed as favors atÂ various Indian religious and wedding ceremonies.
Peda is another Indian sweet which is widely available all over the subcontinent. A peda is typically made with a milk solid called Khoa which is sourced from thickened and reduced milk. Pedas like most Indian sweets have various regional variations as they are combined with various other ingredients like saffron, cardamom seeds and wheat flour.
Rice puddingÂ can beÂ found in various forms all over India. In North India, this dish which is typically made by boiling rice, milk and sugar together is called Kheer while in South India it is known as Payasam. This rice pudding is often flavored with cardamoms, raisins, pistachios and almonds in North India, while in South India, Payasam is made with split pea and coconut milk rather than rice and milk. Indian Muslims usually make their version of kheer. Their version is madeÂ with vermicelli instead of rice asÂ this dish is usually served to celebrate the festival of Eid.
Barfi is perhaps the most common of all Indian sweets. This is the sweet that you normally see in your local Indian sweet shop that is carefully arranged on trays in organized rows and columns.Â Barfi is made with condensed milk and sugar which is cooked until it reduces and solidifies. Barfi is usually available in a wide range of colors and flavors which are determined by its combination ingredient which could be pistachios in the case of the green pista barfi, almonds in the case of the snowy white almond barfi and cashews in the case of the cream colored much loved cashew or Kaju Barfi which is one of the most common Indian sweets. Nowadays barfi is even available with modern flavorings like chocolate and walnut.
Almost all Indian sweets are decorated with a garnish known as â€˜varakâ€™ which is an edible silver leaf. This edible silver paper is used to decorate these sweets so that they look as good as they taste.
You could always try and taste one of these delectable Indian sweets atÂ your local Indian restaurant or at the counter of your local Indian grocery but to truly enjoy these delights you have to travel to India and sample their many varieties at any one of the countless Mithai stores (sweet stores) that dot the Indian culinary landscape.