Fighting the cold, Agra style

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 07, 2013 05:00 hrs

Agra: The Taj Mahal city is shivering. But Agra's traditional 'halwais' have an answer to the biting cold.

Owners of the city's famed sweetmeat shops say there can be no better way of beating the chill than to go for their ghee-rich products.

"The traditional belief in Braj mandal (Lord Krishna's land) is that winter is the time to build health," Shishir Bhagat of the 250-year-old Bhagat Halwai shop told IANS.

He explains that it is in this season that people ought to take plenty of "solid food, consume lots of ghee (clarified butter), laddoos and drink milk with kesar and dry fruits".

"To hell with cold!" adds Surendra Sharma of Goverdhan hotel. How?

"(Eat) pista and kajoo ki barfi, til ke laddoo, gajar ka halwa and rounded up with maghai or Banarsi paan with zarda and kimam," he answers.

According to Vrindavan's Acharya Jaimini, daal-baati-choorma, makkey ki roti or bajrey ki roti and saag are equally hot favourites at this time of the year.

Vrindavan resident Kunj Bihari Sharma explains: "The hot kesar flavoured milk with a thick layer of malayi is in great demand both in Vrindavan and at Vishram Ghat in Mathura.

"Thakurjis (deities) in all temples of the Braj region are being offered dry fruits-filled burfi and hot milk," he added.

Of course, hot tea -- at times laced with ginger -- is always in demand at every nook and corner shop.

"For aam aadmi, it is moongfali and gur chikkis," said priest Madhukar Chaturvedi.

Agra is famous for gajjak. If made with jaggery, he adds, "it is not only nourishing but provides protection against cold".

Home-maker Seema Gupta feels it is good that vegetables are available now in plenty -- and affordable too.

Green vegetables are particularly healthy in winter, she says. "Hot soups steaming and topped with cream are now part of all parties.

"Carrots and moolis with beetroot and tomatoes offer a variety of choices. The matar (green peas) is selling cheap, as also cauliflower."

Agra's aloo-ki-tikki called bhalla, filled with dry fruits, continues to be a hot favourite of tourists visiting the Taj Mahal and other monuments.

But some traditional "chaat joints" are making way for vendors selling egg omelette.

"The increasing tribe of drunkards need something solid and tasty. Eggs provide a solid cover between each shot," explains Anandji, who runs such an outlet at the busy Paliwal Park crossing.

According to restaurant and hotel owners, consumption of non-vegetarian food has shot up.

"Chicken and biryanis khokhas are now visible everywhere. This was not the case earlier as Agra was essentially a vegetarian area," food lover Sudheir Gupta told IANS.

"But now there is space for all kinds of food, including south Indian and Chinese. We have the Agra dosa filled with dry fruits and topped with grated cheese," Gupta added.

While the traditional halwais are firmly entrenched and experimenting with newer flavours and ingredients, junk food joints find they have enough space for growth.

"A few years ago we felt the halwais would fail to meet the challenge of the new generation outlets offering fast food, but the jalebi-kachauri and laddoos still hold on along with Agra ka petha," said Gupta.

At the same time, pizzas and burgers keep climbing the popularity chart in the Taj city.

Want to beat the winter? Welcome to Agra, the food city!

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