The secret ingredient that makes Afghan Jalebi Wala a Ramadan favorite at Peshawar’s Board Bazar

Wasim Sajjad

PESHAWAR: During the holy month, amid the growing hustle and bustle as iftar approaches, lengthy queues form as people line up to buy their favorite Ramadan treat from the well-known, and much-loved, Afghan Jalebi Wala stall near the entrance to Board Bazar in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The bazar is known to locals as “Waroki Kabul,” or “Mini Kabul,” because the majority of businesses are owned by the families of refugees from Afghanistan, many of whom moved to the area in the late 1970s after the Soviets invaded Pakistan’s neighbor.

As one strolls along the streets of the marketplace, one can hear people speaking in Dari, the most common language in Afghanistan, or Pashto with an Afghan accent. Traditional Afghan attire, including robes and caps, are on display in many shop windows.

During Ramadan, a lot of people come to the bazar for one thing above all else: Jalebi, a sweet snack similar to a funnel cake that is made by piping spirals of slightly fermented batter into hot oil, and then soaking the deep-fried whirls in warm sugar syrup.

The Afghan Jalebi Wala stall was set up by a refugee called Ashiqullah in the early 1980s and became famous across Peshawar and the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for the quality of its wares.

It is now run by the original owner’s sons, one of whom, Nasratullah, 22, was hard at work packing hot, syrup-soaked jalebis into bags for the long lines of hungry Ramadan customers when Arab News visited the store one evening recently, just before iftar.

“In the holy month of Ramadan, lots of people take jalebis for Khatm-ul-Qur’an (completion of the Qur’an during taraweeh prayers) and iftar,” Nasratullah told Arab News.

Many people also buy jalebis packed and ready to send to friends and relatives in other parts of the country, including Islamabad and Rawapindi, he added, or to far-flung parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province such as Dir and Chitral.

“The Afghans eat jalebis with qahwa, or green tea, and our Pakistani brothers eat them with black tea, or chai,” Nasratullah said. There are also differences between the Afghan and Pakistani varieties of the snack itself, he explained; for example, no food coloring is used in the Afghan version, while the Pakistani varieties are dyed a deep orange color.

“These (Afghan jalebis) are cooked thin and round and (Pakistani varieties) are cooked thick and closely packed,” he added.

Asked why his jalebis are so famous and popular, Nasratullah smiled and said that they contain a secret ingredient that makes them stand out from the competition: “We can’t tell anyone about the ingredient — it is our expertise.”

Sales of jalebis vary depending on the season, he said, generally falling during summer months but increasing during the winter and, especially, Ramadan.

“We sell about 550 to 600 kilograms per day and the price is 350 rupees ($1.20) per kilo,” Nasratullah said. “Everyone likes these jalebis, so a lot of rush is seen many of the times.”

One loyal customer, a 36-year-old doctor who identified himself only as Ibrahim, said his family enjoys the jalebis with tea during iftar, and that it is also a tradition to distribute them at local mosques during taraweeh prayers.

“Whenever I come to Board Bazar, I must buy these jalebis,” said Ibrahim, who lives in another part of Peshawar but visits the marketplace especially to purchase them.

Another customer, Muslim Khan, said: “It has been eight to 10 years since I had these jalebis for the first time. They are very delicious. I buy them because they are very tasty and my children eat them with love.”

Courtesy: arabnews