Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant in Sydney's Harris Park is never exactly quiet – it’s been open and busy with a steady stream of customers since 1998. People flock to the store for the Indian desserts they know and love like almond barfi, gulab jamun and jalebi.
But each and every August, the energy shifts gears and the shop floor looks even fuller. The staff members are practically run off their feet, according to Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant's owner Ramesh Sharma.
The reason for the uptick lies in an unassuming disc of fried batter, variably topped with condensed milk, mixed nuts, saffron and other garnishes, and known to Indians from the northern states as ghevar.
Sometimes called ghewar or ghebar, ghevar is a Rajasthani sweet traditionally associated with the Hindu month of Shravan, which marks the beginning of monsoon: this year, it runs from July to August, but it can take place between June and September. Once the humidity of the monsoon sweeps the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, street vendors take to their large vats of oil, carefully but briskly spooning a mixture of flour, milk, sugar and ghee (clarified butter) into metal rings.
“Making ghevar is an art form,” Sharma tells SBS. “I tried once, but I couldn’t do it!”
“It looks very simple, but it’s very hard to drop the right amount of liquid into that ring. It’s a time-consuming process,” he says.
But so, so worth it. What emerges from the oil are crunchy, meshed discs (resembling honeycomb, or a scrumptious mash-up of crumpets, murtabak and baklava) ready to be dipped in fresh sugar syrup.
“It’s like a crunchy biscuit before it’s soaked in the sugar syrup,” Sharma says. “It can keep up to three months as a biscuit, but it softens once the sugar syrup touches it.”
“Making ghevar is an art form. I tried once, but I couldn’t do it!”
They can be eaten plain, stacked to form a kind of cake with custard cream in between each layer, smothered with condensed milk or dusted with cardamom powder. At Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant, the ghevar comes topped with pecan milk.
“The best way to know it is to try it,” Sharma says.
There's basically one rule with ghevar, though: don’t go looking for it outside of the monsoon months. You may turn up empty-handed.
And here's an added (healthy) bonus for finding it, says Sharma: “in Ayurvedic Indian tradition, ghee-laden ghevar are said to have a calming effect on the mind and body during the moist monsoon months."
Ghevar is a party food, primarily enjoyed during some of the biggest festivals in Northern India’s calendar – such as Teej, a celebration of girls and women. This event focuses on three key dates this year: Hariyali Teej on 3 August, Kajari Teej on 18 August, and Hartalika Teej on September 1.
“It looks very simple, but it’s very hard to drop the right amount of liquid into that ring. It’s a time-consuming process.”
The festivities are marked with prayer, dancing, singing and piles of ghevar and other sweets to honour the holy union of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. On special occasions like Teej, some families serve ghevar with edible silver – for an extra auspicious sheen.
Although Sharma plans to sell ghevar at Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant throughout August, the ghevar-crafting team will get an extra work-out on 15 August for Raksha Bandhan, the festival of sibling love. In Sanskrit, the festival name translates roughly ‘tying the knot of protection’. Sisters attach a rakhi, or amulet, to their brothers’ wrist, and the bond is sealed. “Ghevar is the most popular sweet during this time,” Sharma says.
Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant claims to be the only place in Sydney making ghevar from scratch and selling it during the festival period. So, why restrict it to a one-month operation, especially when the ghevar business is so good?
“I think we should definitely try and make it all-year around,” Sharma says. “No one else makes it, and people don’t know much about it. But it’s something unique and authentic to northern India, so everyone should have a chance to try it outside the July-September period."
Stop by Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant in Harris Park (and its Paramatta outpost) for a taste of ghevar this August.
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