They say the memory of the food you had growing up stays on your taste buds for life. And if Motichoor Laddoo, a sweetmeat speciality of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, came to be branded as ‘Dilli ka Laddoo’, credit must go to migrant communities who took it back to their home states on their annual vacations. For example, for a large number of Bengalis settled in Kolkata, a visit from their “pravasi” relatives in Delhi meant expectantly looking forward to the cellophane wrapped gift box. Somehow, memories got made not just because of the luscious sweet nestled inside but because of the way the cardboard smelt of the ghee as the laddoo’s gooey fullness wafted up your senses while opening it.
On the face of it, this little sphere of explosive delight is fairly simple in its origins. It is nothing but pearl-sized globules of fried besan/chana dal flour bound and held together with thickened sugar syrup, zested up with saffron strands and cardamom. Once done, the mashed dough is then rolled into roundels with a generous sprinkling of topping that one can afford, from nuts to a dribbling of essence. And given they are fried and prepared in pure ghee, the laddoos have a longish shelf life. Which is why they became such a good gifting option or a high-energy travel food.
Historically speaking, Motichoor Laddoo is not much different from the laddoo tradition that many food historians have documented. It is believed that in the 4th Century BC, our pioneering physician Susruta used laddoos as an antiseptic for his surgical patients. He used a concoction of healing ingredients, rolling sesame seeds in jaggery and peanuts and coating them with honey. This was an all-in-one food with anti-bacterial properties that kept infections, particularly common cold, away and prevented indigestion. Sometimes he would even put herbs, seeds and medicinal herbs in the core of the laddoo so that his cure was palatable to his patients. In fact, laddoos originally were made with honey and jaggery. As they became a portable food, communities across India adapted them with locally available ingredients and matched them with their local profile.
But Motichoor Laddoos have no such pretension. They are meant for sinful indulgence. And though they are widely available in sweetmeat shops across the city and on e-commerce portals, there are some that have patented exclusivity like the laddoos at Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners in Chandni Chowk. There’s an excess of purity – desi ghee and the thick caramelised sugar syrup. They have such an addictive sweetness and a melt-in-your-mouth softness that you don’t even feel your morsel crumbling. It just liquefies with the ghee. The shop stacks the laddoos up in such a tempting way that you cannot just stop at one. Admittedly, none of the traditional sweetmeat shops in Old Delhi go wrong with the Motichoor Laddoo but if you are going to Chaina Ram, then do drop in at Tewari Bros Confectioners too. Although known for savouries and snacks, very few know that when it comes to the flavour profile, nothing beats their Motichoor Laddoos. The spheres may not be as big and luscious as Chaina Ram’s but if deliciousness can have a balance, then the laddoo makers here have perfected that art of just the right degree of sweetness, accents and aroma. They’ve made eating laddoos a multi-sensorial experience.
However, if you do not want to trudge all the way to Old Delhi, some shops have built their own loyalty credits around the city. For example, Kaleva’s at Gole Market is the preferred haunt for the families of bureaucrats who are settled around it. Perhaps, generations of Kaleva loyalists have been so fed on the sweets here, that they would not like to experiment with any other. Known more for its besan laddoos, its Motichoor Laddoos win because they are always fresh. Bengali Sweets at Bengali Market was once good competition but now that the establishment has split up, the Motichoor Laddoo has lost its sweetness. But Bengali Sweet Centre at South Extension, keeps that bursting, spilling, glistening robustness alive. The best part? They move out the trays should the laddoos seem to be shrivelling up or collapsing and replace them with turgid ones. Easily the best place for an authentic experience in South Delhi. Of course, it gets some competition from Anupama Sweets in Kailash Colony.
The Motichoor has been reinvented in times of innovative fusion with high-end restaurants crumbling it over whipped cream. For example, Gur Chini, with outlets at Defence Colony and Sultanpur on the Mehrauli Gurgaon Road, specialises in “progressive Indian sweets” and has the Pink Motichoor Laddoo with a raspberry relish. Confectioners here use natural sweeteners and Stevia for the burgeoning diabetic population in the city. Gurgaon-based food start-up Berfila makes White Chocolate Raspberry Motichoor Laddoo, an innovation with floral accents and the Western chocolate. Fusion is often good for reinvention but when it comes to the Dilli ka Laddoo, the classic better not be replicated.