In Triplicane, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Chennai, motorists have to carefully manoeuvre the Jam Bazaar area as the entire stretch, with shops on both sides of the road, gives just a tiny space to move on.
On entering Fakib Street, one can find Basha Halwawala on the right side of the road. The shop, which looks just like any of the hundreds of sweet shops in the city, has more than what meets the eye. It has the tradition of tickling the city’s taste buds for over 100 years.
While each of the nearly 17 sweet delicacies served here is unique in its own way, the signature dish has been the ‘Dum ka roat’, for which a beeline of customers is seen waiting for their turn.
The orders here are packed not in a plastic box but in a traditional cardboard, specially made for the sweet to hold for more days and tied carefully with an old thread. Hot desserts are served on butter paper.
Basha Halwawala, started by Basha Sahib in 1915, has remained a family enterprise for generations, without any other branches. A few customers say the price has remained more or less the same despite the economic fluctuations.
It is 2 pm on a Saturday and N Jalaludeen, 62, the fourth-generation owner of Basha Halwawala, is sitting behind a counter, busy marshalling his staff, including his sons Anwarudeen, 40, and Moinudeen, 33, to deliver the items to the customers without allowing them to wait for a long time. He doesn’t take even a minute to relax in the small shop during business hours.
In between collecting bills and checking on orders, he asks me to get the interview done real quick as he has so much other work. He says he doesn’t like promoting his products and seldom gives interviews. According to him, the product’s quality should speak, not him.
After much persuasion, Jalaludeen gets in the mood to take me back in time to tell the shop’s history, which has a cult fan following.
“Basha Sahib started the shop in 1915 in a hut. Our sweet is authentic, conceptualised, and prepared by our ancestors. The signature sweet ‘Dum ka roat’ is prepared with rava (semolina), ghee, sugar, koya and other items, later sprinkled with some pumpkin seeds,” says Jalaludeen.
As he speaks, the next batch of baked items arrives at the store in aluminium trays. It is then carefully taken from the trays and kept on a glass display.
Ten people work at the shop, and the sweets are prepared by hand rather than with the help of any machines, according to Jalaludeen.
He adds that no artificial flavours or ingredients are added to make the sweets look appealing and they are serving them in the same method their parents and grandparents taught them.
Since many started using their popularity by adding a prefix or suffix to the original name, like ‘The New Basha Halwawala’, they had to register the shop.
Also, in the digital display outside, which has a green background and Basha Halwawala written in big, bold font in yellow colour, and in the cardboard boxes meant for parcels, it is written ‘Original Basha’ and ‘no branches’.
“Each dish will take a minimum of four-five hours to get prepared. They are baked on a coal-fired stove. We don’t use other methods to prepare our desserts. Apart from ‘Dum ka roat’, there is ‘ande ke mithai’ (egg sweet), which is also very popular here. Gulab jamun, carrot halwa, milk sweet, jangiri, boondi, Mysore pak, laddu, milk kova are the other items available here,” Jalaludeen adds.
Speaking about the cardboard boxes, the current owner says they had been following the no-plastic policy for several decades, even before the government launched a campaign.
In the different coloured cardboard boxes meant for parcels, there is butter paper inside each of them. According to Jalaludeen, it will keep the items fresh as customers take them abroad. Initially, they served the delicacies in leaf, he says.
Basha Halwawala has been the go-to destination for people around the area for their family functions and during festivals like Ramzan, the shop would be all buzzing.
“Close to 50 per cent of our customers are from countries like the USA, UK, Malaysia, Canada, UAE and other places. They come here every time they visit their home and go back overseas with a parcel of sweets from here,” adds Jalaludeen.
The shop opens around 10 am, closes around 10 pm, and works on all days, including festivals.
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