BACK IN THE good old days of last decade, my Doctor Feelgood colleague Gary Steel was the long-suffering editor of a local technology magazine. He was backed up by his trusty assistant editor Jes, and I was their nemesis, the annoying sales guy, always coming up with crazy schemes and outrageous plans obviously concocted specifically to disrupt their deadlines. Fortunately, we shared a common fondness for Indian food, so we tended to have a number of “meetings” at Indian restaurants, most notably Saffron in Ponsonby and Xotic in Mount Albert.
One day after lunch, we decided to sample some of Xotic’s huge selection of Indian sweets. We had absolutely no clue as to what was what, so we picked out a random selection to take away, and we hit the road. The result wasn’t exactly what could be a called a success. The twirly orange numbers that we thought were a kind of sweet candy turned out to be something like old sawdust and dough fried in hundred year old (used) motor oil and left to mellow in the sun for a month. We couldn’t even give them away to the team at work – even the strange colleagues that we didn’t really like! The other sweet choices we made on the day didn’t go down all that well either, and I decided that perhaps Indian sweets weren’t for me.
Quite a long while later, I was back at Xotic waiting at the counter to pay for my meal when I noticed a range of sweets that looked really tasty – more like an actual sweet than a wild and outlandish mixture of ingredients. The coconut burfi in particular resembled a small block of good old-fashioned coconut ice, so I bought a piece to try along with a chunk of the milk powder burfi. After all, how wrong could I possibly go with coconut and milk powder?
As it turns out, it’s very hard to go wrong with a burfi, any burfi. From the ones mentioned above to the mango, pineapple, chocolate, cardamom or pistachio variations (and others), they’re all delicious. Rich and sweet with hints of exotic spices, they’re a taste treat. Both Xotic and Bikanervala have a wide range of burfis and you can buy them individually, so you can try as many as you like. The all you can eat vegetarian buffet at Saffron in Ponsonby Road (Fridays, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm) usually has a bowl or two of burfis for desert. The type of burfi varies but they’re extremely delicious and they’re utterly irresistible even after a meal fit for two kings. Beware the perils of overindulgence.
Then there is the delectable Gulab Jamun – a spongy ball of dough that’s been deep-fried and drowned in flavoured syrup. The ones from the tin are nice; the fresh made ones are out of this world. Like most Indian sweets, they’re not exactly health foods but you shouldn’t eat them by the kilo, and as an occasional treat, they’re cool. Life’s too short for utter deprivation.
Another killer sweet, well… more of a pudding actually, is Shrikhand or Shreekand– available in all its glory at Jai Jalaram Khaman (reviewed here). It’s a yoghurt-based sweet, so it’s off my menu but if you’re an ovo/lacto vego, then it’s worth a try.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the world of Indian sweets and I need to go chat to the guys at Xotic and Bikanervala (reviewed here) to see which of the sweets are vegan (not too many I fear) but if you’ve never tried them, then take a shot, just avoid the twirly orange ones unless you’re a daredevil. There are heaps of places to buy them in Auckland, from Sandringham to K-Road to Dominion Road – just look around. I might do a directory one of these days…