The Origins of Jalebi: Tracing Its Journey From Persia To India

The Origins of Jalebi: Tracing Its Journey From Persia To India

Jalebis are impossible to say no to, whether eaten by themselves or with creamy rabdi. A sweet dish present in several parts of India finds a place in the heart of most people with its irresistible deliciousness. As a staple Indian delicacy, most people assume that jalebis originated in the subcontinent and emerged as local food. What is unknown is whether the orange swirls of batter-dipped in sugar actually made their journey from Persia to the Indian Subcontinent.

The sweet delicacy takes many forms depending on which state and which city it is made in. Similarly, the origin of the jalebi that originated in Persia had a completely different look to them. They evolved here and transformed from the Persian prototype to what is available at every corner sweet shop in India.

Image Courtesy: Surf Iran

The Origin Of The Jalebi

In Persia, the birth of jalebi started with the mention of the dish ‘zulbiya’, in a 10th-century cookbook named ‘Kitab al-Tabeekh’ written by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi. Zulbiya was a popular sweet dish that was mainly distributed to the general folk during the month of Ramadan for Iftar and other local celebrations.

This delicacy travelled with the Turkish and Persian traders and artisans to the Indian shores and was soon adopted by people of the subcontinent who started calling it jalebis. Starting from the 15th century, the dish assimilated into the culture by being a staple for festivals, weddings, and even as prashad (an offering) for temple rituals.

Hints Of Indian Origin

Around 1450 CE, a famous Jain text composed by the author Jinasura called ‘Priyamkarnrpakatha’ discusses how jalebi was a common dish to be relished for gatherings of rich merchants and traders. A Sanskrit text as old as 1600 CE, mentions and describes the ingredients along with the recipe for making jalebis, which find a close resemblance to the process practised today. This dish also found a place in one of the first books of food science and recipe by Raghunath in the 16th century called the ‘Bhojma Kutuhala’.

Image Courtesy: Archana's Kitchen

Current Variations

As a diverse and expansive country, our culture, food, fashion and language change every 100 km. So does food! Jalebis find a different disposition in each presence in each state and each city. From the differences between North India’s jalebi and South India’s jilebi, the dish changes its form and shape; travelling from the Bengali jilapi to a Gujrati jalebi enjoyed with fafda. Just to name a few options, we have the jalebis from the night markets of Indore, imarti of Andhra, mawa jalebi of Madhya Pradhesh and khowa Jalebi of Hyderabad. Another famous version of the jalebi is the one you find in the streets of Chandani Chowk or Old Delhi, which serves jalebis thicker than the usual ones. These jalebis can be refrigerated for months as they are not fermented when made.

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