White carrot halwa is in season. Have you tasted yet? (Express Photo by Naman Shah)
While the crowd inside the bylanes of Old Delhi passes by in a hurry, some, like Mohd Ashqeen, drop by a 4x4 sweet shop at Chitli Qabar area near Jama Masjid. The 60-year-old grabs a seat but not before helping himself to a plate of a safed gajar ka halwa (white carrot halwa) -- a 100 gram for Rs 50. He polishes off the plate to the last crumb in no time. "I am a regular at Sheeren Bhawan for 30 years now. I have had halwas at many places, but this unique and the best version. I come here every other day for a plateful," he said.
As Ashqeen readies to leave, a couple walks in and enquires about the kinds of sweets available at Sheeren Bhawan, which, the owners said, was established easily more than a century ago. When Waqas Qureshi, one of the owners, lets in about the safed gajar ka halwa among other things, an animated conversation ensues.
Another customer, 34-year-old Mohd Dawood said it has become an annual ritual for him to savour the delicacy for the past 20 years.
Besides the regular customers every day, there are people who come with friends, family or by themselves on the trail of the "curious case of white gajar and its halwa".
One plate of 100 grams costs Rs 50. (Express Photo by Jayashree Narayanan)
As he spoke, the couple had ordered a plate each. While everyone is familiar with the gajar ka halwa made with red/orange carrots, the origins of white carrots, whose colour is white like radish but is like a red carrot in shape, is not widely known. "The shop was started by our grandfather's grandfather. We are taking the legacy forward. There are a group of farmers who cultivate white carrots in Ghaziabad, especially for us. We get the stock directly from those farmers. Now as the demand for white carrot halwa has increased in the market, white carrots have begun to appear in markets as well," Qureshi told indianexpress.com.
The more than a century-old shop is located in Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid. (Express Photo by Naman Shah)
The halwa is cooked at a godown located behind the shop. The white carrots, after being washed and peeled, are cut into small pieces and soaked in water for at least one to one-and-a-half hour. "After the carrots soften, they are mixed with khoya and simmered on a slow flame. The taste is enhanced with dollops of ghee. When it is cooked over a slow flame, it starts to become reddish. Then sugar is added to the mixture, and is topped with cashews," said Qureshi, stopping short of giving away the entire recipe.
Is there any difference in taste between the red and white? "This is definitely much less sweet and doesn't leave behind 'too much sweetness' aftertaste that is often the case with the red carrot halwa," pointed out Dawood.
Much like its name Sheeren, Urdu for mithaas or sweetness, the shop has on display homemade desi-ghee laden sweets, including kaju katli, baalushahi and imarti.
Shereen Bhawan's speciality is not just the safed gajar ka halwa that is available from mid-December to around mid-February, it also makes four other halwas, two of which again are unique — aloe vera halwa and clove halwa. The other two are gond and sohan halwa.
The five halwas in particular, are our speciality, Qureshi said, adding the recipes of all five have been passed on by his forefathers.
Aloe vera halwa is another popular halwa found in the shop. (Express Photo by Jayashree Narayanan)
Clove halwa, said Qureshi, is made with mixing hot spices and clove in simmering milk. "This is very effective in keeping the body warm in the winter season. In aloe vera halwa, the soft middle part of the herb is cooked that drives away the bitterness. Then dry fruits and essence are mixed that neutralises aloe vera's taste. That is also good in the winter season. A small helping of the halwa with a glass of milk relieves joint pains in the winter."
One of the owners Waqas Qureshi at the shop. (Express Photo by Naman Shah)
As more customers start trickling in, one wonders what the other shops have to say about not cashing in on the safed gajar ka halwa. "Yes, the demand is there. People have tried to recreate it. But haven't been able to replicate our taste. Customers as old as 80 years come to our shop, and that reflects the uniqueness of what we make," said Qureshi.
Just a few blocks away is Kamaal Sweet House located at Matia Mahal. Ask one of the young owners Ameenuddin, why doesn't he keep the white gajar halwa, he said, "Foreigners think that white carrot halwa is made of radish or eggs. So, we have the shahi halwa which is a mix of red and white carrots. That's our speciality."