A taste of New Jersey's Indian sweet shops for Diwali
Rajbhog FoodsFestive mithai boxes from Rajbhog Foods are filled with marzipan like apples, layers of triangular nut and fig dilpasand, pear shaped cashew based kesar kaju peda with a square of coconut burfi, and Rajbhog Swiss Rolls with a nut paste base and dried fruit centers.
In the days before Diwali, publications in India offer advice similar to what Americans see before Thanksgiving and Christmas. not hog multiple pieces of mithai and greasy delights, advises one newspaper article. keep large amounts of mithai at home, warns another.
The dangerously tempting mithai are the Indian equivalent to homemade fudge, dense cheesecake cheap nfl authentic jerseys or gooey glazed donuts. The tasty threats come in small sizes, and millions of the sweet squares, slices, rolls and rounds are made and packaged in New Jersey, filling elaborately decorated gift boxes that will be exchanged with well wishes today in celebration of Diwali.
Today is the main day nfl jerseys cheap of the five day of light also known as Deepavali. Like Christmas, nfl jerseys wholesale Diwali main day is a national holiday in many parts of the world, observed by Indians and others of South Asian descent who may be Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists or not religious at all. Like cakes, they help mark birthdays and other important events. Less festively, they are cooked up as treats in the homes of doting grandmothers, and enjoyed frequently as indulgences with cups of tea.
Creamy squares of fudge like burfi embellished with edible silver, lusciously moist boondi ladoos, and the snow white, syrup soaked rasgullas are true ambrosia, ceremonially offered to god and goddess with prayers for wisdom and prosperity.
Making mithai (pronounced me tie) also brings bragging rights, with different regions proclaiming the creation or perfection of certain types. Some Asian American brides also will select mithai familiar to their heritage, be it Indian, Bangledeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Nepali. There are easily more than 100 types of mithai, and in a subcontinent with more than a billion people, numerous languages and religions, there seem to be as many spellings for various mithai types as there are reasons to celebrate Diwali.
most obvious thing people see about us when we exchange gifts like this is that we Indians are extremely generous by nature, even when we have little money, Khanna said. "All these exchanges are just our way of saying you are special to me.
The abundance of such gestures has made mithai big business in New Jersey. Rajbhog Foods, perhaps this nation largest commercial producer, is headquartered in Jersey City with two New York food production facilities and ten retail shops total in New Jersey, New York, Georgia and North Carolina. Like Rajbhog, brands such as Bengali Sweet House in Jersey City and Sukhadia in Iselin also have nationwide reach through their web sites. Both Rajbhog and Linden based Jain Foods, which produces mithai for Bengali Sweet House, make frozen and shelf stable mithai stocked by Indian groceries in New Jersey and elsewhere. Deep Foods, the Union based Indian foods company, also produces frozen supermarket sweets.
Earlier this month, workers at Rajbhog Jersey City facility were packaging and distributing up to 15,000 pounds of mithai daily, according to Sachin Mody, co owner of Rajbhog Foods, which also produces savory snacks, ice cream and frozen meals. Even as the company was nearing the peak of the Diwali crush, Rajbhog officials welcomed me for a tour, taking time for a mithai crash course, and sending me off with samples to aid my understanding.
MITHAI: EXPLORING FLAVOR AND TEXTURE
Armed with this experience, I visited eight sweet shops on Newark Avenue in Jersey City and Oak Tree Road in Iselin. I purchased the same types for comparison and to produce a basic mithai guide to help eliminate the intimidation factor in trying unfamiliar goodies that can cost up to $15 per pound, usually with a half pound purchase required.
To sample mithai is to explore not only flavors, but textures. The range is from the sand like graininess of besan ladoo, to the crunch then melt in your mouth quality of mysoor pak to the velvety fudge, crumbly or cookie dough consistencies of burfi. At least three types are soaked or cooked in sugar syrup: the drenched cake orbs of gulab jamun, the spongy, porous rasgulla, and the crisp and colorful jalebi.
The wide variety of sweets are, surprisingly, made from a few basic ingredients, primarily milk, chickpea (gram) flour, clarified butter, nuts, dried fruit and, of course, sugar. Variations emerge from often laborious and exacting techniques. Milk might be gently cooked and stirred for hours to reduce it to the necessary consistency. Milk solids are kneaded until they can form balls of soft cheese. cheap authentic jerseys A syrup thickness must be just right for its recipe.
When going for mithai, proceed as you might with neighborhood bakeries, realizing that individual sweet shops excel at different products, and that sweetness, ingredient quality, freshness and preparation techniques will vary among them. Some makers rely on shortcuts such as adding flour to cheeses or mixing in condensed milk or milk powder. Others hold fast to painstaking tradition. Many shops also boast unique offerings, hoping to win favor over competitors.
The competition isn just other mithai makers, it also changing tastes. South Asian Americans enjoy the same foods as the general population, and it is not uncommon for some to select cakes, cookies and other non traditional sweets for Diwali. Even in India, small cupcakes and donuts were being heralded this year as the new mithai.
That makes it a good idea for mithai sellers to broaden their market. Atul Jain, whose family owns Bengali Sweet House and Jain Foods brands, hopes to do just that.
Westernize some of our sweets to help introduce them into another culture when they are not familiar, says Jain. The wide appeal of chocolate was tapped for the company non traditional chocolate burfis. you try that, you are willing to try other things, Jain says.
The company also has staged mithai tastings, the next of which will be Nov. 23 at Bombay Bazaar, 1503 Finnegans Lane, North Brunswick. Focus groups have helped determine what sweet flavors would most appeal to those accustomed to American foods. To further demystify the sweets, Bengali Sweet House is among shops, including the Rajbhogs in Iselin and Jersey City, that offer sample cuts to new customers.
The taming of Indian and other world cuisines for European and American palates is not new. Many Indian restaurants routinely temper heat and spiciness to welcome the uninitiated. That is likely why the common flavors of cardamom and saffron, and the perfume of rosewater were barely discernible in many of the sweets we tried.
Khanna, whose recently published cookbook First: An Indian Chef's Culinary Journey (Lake Isle Press, $24.95) includes new takes on Indian ingredients as well as such ancestral recipes as coconut gulab jamun, says change is inevitable as people travel and move around the globe.
I try when I can to remind people of how precious and valuable our old traditions are, and then I have to remind myself that time keeps moving on no matter what I would like, he says. everything that is lost, something is also gained and I think that it is up to us in the end to look for that positive aspect.