James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Let’s All Bulk‑Buy These Old Delhi Sweets While We Still Can

Let’s All Bulk‑Buy These Old Delhi Sweets While We Still Can

Khurchan in Old Delhi

When I turn up at Sunil Kumar Jain’s tiny but legendary sweet shop in a narrow lane of the 17th-century market, Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi on a Saturday morning, he tells me with a trace of impatience: “You can read all about my shop online.”

It’s true. His stall is fetishized by food bloggers and local historians. In the next two hours, as I observe the frenzied pace of work, I begin to understand why he has no time for pleasantries.

Hazari Lal Jain Khurchan Wale is the only shop in the city that sells khurchan, the Hindi word for “leftover scrapes”—a sweet made of milk cream. Khurchan is slightly sticky, has a mild taste, a gooey texture, and is layered like a cake. The recipe is deceivingly simple: slowly boil milk in a karahi (a wok-shaped cooking pot) until it thickens, scrape it off, and slap the milky slices together on a tray, almost like wedging clay. Add a sprinkle of sugar and finely-cut pistachios on top.

And yet, making khurchan is not easy. Work begins here at six in the morning. The churning milk needs constant attention, as four men squat on the floor, stirring and skimming the layers of cream that float up. It’s all a matter of delicate timing, when to amp up the heat and when to reduce it. Every now and then, Jain leaves the counter to lend a hand to his staff. “The summer months are unbearably hot with all the boiling. For the last 35 years, this has been my life every day.”

The shop was established nearly 90 years ago (he thinks, but is not sure) by his grandfather, Gauri Shankar Jain, a migrant to Delhi who named it after his son, Hazari Lal. When his father passed away in 1983, Sunil Jain, who was barely out of school, took over. But he does not want this for his son.

“This shop will close with me.”

The history of the shop does not mean much to him. I ask him why his grandfather chose to sell this rare sweet in Delhi? He shrugs. Who knows, it’s been passed on in the family.

Khurchan may have originated from Khurja, a town of potters, not far from Delhi. The idea of inventively using leftovers might have to do with frugal Indian culture.

Through the morning, tourists come and go. Yufo, a young man from Taiwan, is on a food trail in Old Delhi. Khurchan reminds him of moji, he says, as he takes quick photos on his phone. An old timer, Pradeep Gupta, who has been visiting the shop for the last 50 years, packs a box for his doctor. “Do you know there is hardly any sugar, it’s flavored by the milk’s natural sweetness,” he says, before hurrying away.

This place is not meant for lingering. It’s in the middle of the busy Kinari Bazaar, a wholesale market for wedding wear—ornate saris, blingy jewelry, elaborate turbans jostle for space. Over the years, traditional food shops have given way to gaudy wedding stores. Hazari Lal Jain Khurchan Wale might soon have the same fate.

Hazari Lal Jain Khurchan Wale, Shop 2225,
Kinari Bazaar, Dariba Kalan +91 11 2325 3992,
Near Parathewali Gali
Timings: 9:30 am to 9:30 pm

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