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Indian sweets are some of the most unique types of sweets in the world. You cannot complete a visit to this exotic country without sampling some of the abundant sweets to suit various palates. While visiting Hyderabad, a city in South India recently, I had the opportunity to try one of the most popular Indian sweets, soan papdi, and even see how it’s made!
Soan Papdi resembles cotton candy in a sense but has a few more ingredients that make it a characteristically Indian confection. The basic ingredients sugar, besan (gram flour), and ghee (clarified butter) come together with exotic seasoning and garnishing to create this delectable Indian sweet.
The name “soan” comes from the Persian word “sohan” which is also a type of sweet but doesn’t resemble soan papdi. Other names for this sweet are patisa, shonpapdi, sohan papdi, shompapri, and san papri. We can attribute the different names to the diverse Indian languages that describe soan papdi.
Soan papdi is a confection that we form from pulled sugar, mixed with other ingredients. It is a laborious, manual process, and extremely time-consuming. Even most Indians don’t appreciate the effort that goes into making a batch of soan papdi. I do though because I had the opportunity to see how this unique sweet is made. But first, let’s take a quick look at how soan papdi originated.
Origin of Soan Papdi
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There is no record of the inventor of soan papdi. However, it is believed to have its origin in the western states of India in the region that is Maharashtra today. Some claim that it originated in the north-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
It later spread to other areas of western and north India and it even found its way to the southern part of the country. Today, it is a popular sweet that enjoys wide popularity during Indian festivals. Let’s take a glimpse at how soan papdi is made.
Soan Papdi: How it’s Made
While at a sweet shop I spied these interesting-looking flaky cubes, garnished with thinly-sliced nuts. When I asked the person at the counter, he smiled at me and said “soan papdi.” Like all sweet shops in India, they often offer you a free sample, and so, I received a free sample as well!
It was a melt-in-the-mouth delicious explosion of sweet, mysterious flavors, a bit difficult to explain. So began my love affair with soan papdi! But how was this exotic sweet made? I wondered. As if reading my thoughts, the guy at the counter asked me if I’d like to see how it’s made. “Yess!” I exclaimed and he handed me a phone number and name and asked me to call the person and go to meet him.
The next day, I called the number, and after a quick conversation, I was on my way to the small house where the residents make soan papdi. Here’s a first-hand account of what I saw:
The main ingredients are as follows:
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Besan (gram flour)
- All-purpose flour
- Cardamom seeds
- Nuts (almonds and pistachios, finely sliced)
First ghee is added to a kadai (bowl-shaped cast-iron or aluminum utensil) and heated until the ghee melts. Once the ghee becomes liquid, besan is added the mixture cooks while being stirred constantly, until it becomes a thick paste. Some manufacturers replace the besan with all-purpose flour as it is more cost-effective.
Sugar dissolved in water and cooked until it becomes a thick, caramelized mass. Now, the fun begins! The caramelized sugar is kneaded while still warm and mixed with the besan paste on a huge, wide, lid. The mixture is then shaped into a ring and pulled by two people, mixing the sugary mass and besan paste while intermittently adding dry flour.
The two people continue to pull the besan-sugar mass and as it dries and thickens, it becomes harder to pull. But they continue to pull it until it starts to form threads. After a great deal of twisting and pulling, the mass separates into two bunches of thin threads. Soan papdi appears!
Now, with the grunt work done, they break into manageable bunches and push the soan papdi into steel molds and packed into packets. This is the hand-made version of soan papdi. It retains the loose consistency of the snowy-white hair of old folks, which is why the people of Hyderabad call it “Buddi ka Baal” which means “old lady’s hair!”
For the machine-made version, the sweet is compressed into slabs after mixing in cardamom powder and cut into bite-sized cubes. It is finally garnished with thinly-sliced almonds and pistachios.
Soan Papdi: How it’s Sold
Today soan papdi has become a commercial commodity in the Indian sweet markets. It is mass-produced and sold in vacuum-sealed boxes as highly compressed flaky cubes. But the handmade versions are much looser in consistency and sold from pushcarts.
Pushcart sellers sell soan papdi either loose, contained in an inverted bell jar, or plastic containers and bags. Traditionally, pushcart sellers would have a bell hanging under their pushcarts attached to a rope.
On pulling the rope, the bell would ring and children would come running on hearing the ting-ting of the soan papdi man (as told to me by a Hyderabadi who grew up with it). Sadly, the soan papdi pushcart sellers are a dying race, thanks to the commercialization of this delectable sweet, and they are rarely seen.
So girls! If you ever find yourself in India, you should not hesitate to seek out some soan papdi, as it is one of the flavors of India that you will not forget!