Chik-cha halwa is the essence of Bene Israel Jewish delicacies

Grandmother Shebabeth would smile triumphantly because the aroma of chik-cha halwa stuffed the home

I at all times make it some extent to go to the synagogue on the Jewish new 12 months or Rosh-Hashanna, when the shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown: it resounds with a sound as historical as time. To mark the event, we eat apples dipped in honey together with a candy referred to as chik-cha halwa, which is the essence of Bene Israel Jewish delicacies. This halwa, made with coconut milk, wheat extract and sugar, has a clean and silky texture, a jelly-like consistency. Its refined sweetness will increase with every chunk.

2,000 years in the past

Final 12 months, on Rosh-Hashanna, as I ready to depart the synagogue within the night, earlier than curfew was imposed, my good friend Julie slipped a small cardboard field into my bag. Once I opened it at dwelling, I used to be touched to see a number of items of chik-cha halwa, which she had made for her household and saved apart some for me. Chik-cha halwa is never made now, since making ready it wants time, persistence and experience.

Every time the shofar is blown within the synagogue, we, the Bene Israel Jews, keep in mind our historical past. Some 2,000 years in the past, we

Kanavali or Sabbath Cake

arrived from Israel in a ship, fleeing from the sword of the Greek warlord Antioch, who had established supremacy over King Solomon’s second Temple. Some survived, some didn’t.

The latter have been buried at a graveyard in Alibaug close to Mumbai. We additionally misplaced our Books within the shipwreck. However our ancestors retained their oral reminiscence of Hebrew prayers, some rituals, and the dietary regulation, ‘Thou shalt not cook dinner the younger lamb in its mom’s milk.’ With this as background, they tried to protect their Jewish heritage in India.

In accordance with the dietary regulation, they might not combine dairy merchandise with meat dishes. So our matriarchs determined to make use of coconut milk of their delicacies, creating a wide range of curries. Every time I cook dinner a Jewish dish, I really feel the presence of the matriarchs round me.

Infectious laughter

My earliest reminiscence of the Jewish new 12 months is related to grandmother Shebabeth and the chik-cha halwa she made for the household. She employed younger girls of various communities who lived across the household home as her kitchen assistants. Affectionately referred to as Maa, grandmother was small, petite and plump. When she laughed, her eyes stuffed with tears and her pink cheeks resembled chik-cha halwa. Her laughter was so infectious that her assistants laughed alongside, for no motive in any respect.

Making the halwa was a ritual. First, Maa would maintain a coconut to her ear like a conch shell and hearken to the sound of candy water in its stomach. She would then break it on the ground and her maids would grate it, sitting on a morli, a brief stool with a crescent-shaped metallic scythe fitted to it. The grated coconut was floor with water in a stone mortar and strained twice by means of a muslin material to extract the milk; the primary press was saved other than the second. In the meantime, a wheat extract was ready by soaking wheat grains for 3 consequent nights, then pounded in a stone mortar, and drying the grains within the solar on a tender muslin material till they become granules. Known as chik, that is now out there in some speciality retailers in Mumbai.

Maa would take an enormous, heavy-bottomed vessel, fill it with coconut milk combined with sugar and a pinch of salt, and set it on the range. She dissolved the chik in a bowl of water, added it to the coconut milk and introduced it to a rolling boil whereas including the second press of coconut milk, stirring constantly. 4 hours later, Maa would dissolve edible rose-pink color in a bowl of coconut milk and pour it within the effervescent combination.

Proper consistency

The halwa, blushing like her flushed cheeks, was virtually prepared. She would smile triumphantly because the aroma of the halwa stuffed the home. She would stand over it, majestically sprinkling it with cardamom powder, chopped pistachio and almonds. Her eyes by no means left the halwa, which needed to be of the fitting consistency. As soon as the vessel was taken off the hearth, her assistants poured the halwa into greased thalis.

Maa at all times stated, “Halwa must be tender, pink and lightweight like a flower.” On new 12 months nights, we ate halwa until we burst on the seams.

Though I make Jewish dishes, I can’t make halwa. However whereas researching for considered one of my novels, I met Julie Joseph Pingle on the Magen Abraham Synagogue in Ahmedabad. She is an professional at making halwa, which is analogous to my grandmother’s. Thus I regained a complete custom of Jewish meals.

On new 12 months’s eve, we cowl platters of choices and chik-cha halwa with silken ceremonial textiles embroidered with Hebrew phrases, that are symbolic of pleasure, happiness and a brand new starting.

Kanavali or Sabbath Cake


Semolina — 500g

Ghee or vegetable oil — ½ cup

Coconut milk — 1 litre

Water —1 litre

Jaggery — 250g

Cardamom powder — 1 tsp

Raisins and chopped dry fruit — 2 tbsps


Warmth ghee in a heavy-bottomed kadhai and add semolina. Roast the combination on gradual hearth until golden brown. Add sugar or chopped jaggery and a pinch of salt. Pour coconut milk over this combination and stir constantly until the liquid evaporates and the semolina absorbs the ghee. Garnish with cardamom powder, raisins, finely-chopped almonds and cashew nuts.

Cowl the kadhai and cook dinner the semolina for a number of extra minutes. Then switch it to a greased, flat tray and bake it at 180°C for 10 minutes.

Take away from oven, cool, minimize into diamond-shaped items and serve.

If the kanavali is made on Friday afternoon, the leftovers are served the following day for Sabbath lunch. Because the cake is made with ghee, it’s served solely with vegetarian dishes.

The Sahitya Akademi-winner’s newest e-book is Bene Appétit: The Delicacies of Indian Jews, revealed by HarperCollins India.

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Tags: Bene Israel Jews, chik-cha halwa, curfew, Hebrew words, Jewish heritage, Jewish new year, King Solomon, matriarchs, new year nights, ram’s horn, synagogue

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