SWEET.MEATS and memories-ROYAL SWEETS

Long before cupcakes and other fancy sweet nothings arrived to influence neural signals and brain activity in modern Bengaluru, the late 19th century saw several bakeries popping up to cater to soldiers in the Cantonment. By the early 1900’s European confectioners including the Italian, G Baccala, on South Parade (Baccala’s is now the Deccan Herald building on MG Road) were busy dusting the C&M Station with a fine layer of icing sugar and coating it with molten chocolate. On the other side of South Parade lay the `native’ bazaars in the Pete and Blackpully (as Shivajinagar was called then).Sweets were made just as elaborately out here, albeit with generous doses of sugar syrup and a thickened whole milk delicacy called Khoa. And so it was around 1942, when 28 year old Mukaram Modi’s grandfather, Abbas Modi from the Dawoodi Bohra community, arrived in Bengaluru from Bhanpura town in north-eastern Madhya Pradesh.

Mukaram Modi at Royal Sweets

Mukaram Modi at Royal Sweets. Pic Courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla

A little digging into Dawoodi Bohra etymology informs me that the word `Bohra’ comes from the Gujarati word `vehru’ meaning trade and the Gujarati speaking community from western India has always been inclined to business. Abbas Modi had made the long journey southwards in search of new business opportunities. Permission was then sought from and granted by their spiritual leader, the 52nd Syyedna, Dai Mohammad Burhanuddin to diversify into sweetmeats following which,  Abbas Modi and his family set up their home and a shop called Royal Sweets below ground level on the narrow Jumma Masjid Road in Blackpully. The tiny outlet off Commercial Street started out with no equipment or resources. It is accessed by a narrow flight of stair that lead you down from the road.  Keep an eye out for the Army Stores next to it, or you will miss it. “Initially, my grandfather walked to mosques in City Market and Johnson Market to deliver orders till he could buy a bicycle” says Mukaram. “My father would sit behind him with boxes. My grandmother Sugra, supervised.”

Those in the know began to flock to Royal Sweets around teatime to sample their delicious Khaja, a flaky fried pastry that is dipped in sugar syrup. Regulars picked up Motichur Ladoos, Son Papadi, Rabari, Halwa and even Mysore Pak during festivals. The idea of Farsan (fried snacks) was introduced to the city. Mukaram recalls family stories of dishing out platefuls for just Rs.2 and pioneering the Aflatoon, a famous local sweetmeat. Though the space was rented initially, they were soon able to buy it from the previous owner. His father Shabbir Modi now oversees the outlet and its branches in other parts of Bengaluru. Mukaram says that he was born right here in their family home behind the door. His own memories of the outlet begin at age six. I too live in the home I was born in, and believe that I am blessed by this rootedness.

Though primarily concentrated in Mumbai and parts of Gujarat, Bengaluru’s Dawoodi Bohra community lives in the Bohra Layout, Gottigere. They are distinguished by their gold embroidered caps and are known for a unique cuisine which includes several iconic non-vegetarian dishes and a famous spicy lentil stew-the Dal Palida. They are also known for their community eating style at home and the Jamaatkhana. Each course is served into and eaten from a metal `thal’  or platter that is shared by friends and family sitting around it. It symbolises the universality of mankind and equality for all.

But the concept of community eating acquires new meaning at Royal Sweets.During Ramzaan, the outlet serves a special iftaar with kebabs, mutton cutlets, chicken pattice, chicken and mutton sticks, the sweet rice and milk Firni and rich Malpoa. It takes orders for tabarruk that is distributed when the Shia Muslim community in Bengaluru gathers to commemorate Moharrum, the month of mourning and austerities. Mukaram’s own venture, Batul Sweets and Savouries in Gottigere on Bannerghatta Road serves a special Sunday breakfast menu of chicken legs, seekh kababs, syrupy jalebis, malpoa and rabari that is popular with early bird techies, runners and cyclists who come here to replenish calories.

My teenage memories of Royal Sweets are marked by their crisp fried mutton samosas filled with a spicy qeema (mince meat) and green pea mixture. Nothing else in the Bengaluru Cantonment came close. (It usually flies off the shelves by the afternoon, so make sure you get here early). The sweet boondi that they supply to mosques in the city on the 27th of Ramzan often came home to our table sealed in the distinctive red and yellow packaging. It was usually finished in one sitting.  Mukaram says their Apricot-Honey Halwa is also immensely popular and offers me a bite size sample of their crowd puller, the Dry Fruit Halwa (Rs.850 per kg). The consistency is perfect, while the almonds and pistachios add a crunchy texture that balances the sweet aftertaste. I hold myself back from digging into the tray. He then offers me a mutton samosa. I bite into it and my taste buds weep nostalgically. I realise that my sense of belonging to this city is deeply embedded in its traditional sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

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Find it at: Royal Sweets, #386, Jumma Masjid Road (OPH Road), off Commercial Street, Shivajinagar Bengaluru 560051.Ph: 080-25592815

Batul Sweets: #54, Jalal Manzil, Bohra Layout, Gottigere, BG Road. Bengaluru 5600083.

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This post was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror, on September 21, 2015.

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