Thick and sticky, the loopy imarti is as decadent as the court of Delhi’s last Mughal. Its crusty deep-fried shell packs in a pool of extravagantly sweet sap. The disciplined jogger shudders at its sight, but a true Delhi belly swells in pride. Made from urad-daal batter, the imarti is the fatter cousin of jalebi, which is softer and uses maida flour.
One place to have imarti is the Mehboob e Ilahi mithai shop (open 6am - 10pm) in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century village in central Delhi known for the shrine of sufi saint Hazrat Nizmauddin Auliya. Adjacent to Zuberi Hotel eatery, it’s the first stall on the lane that turns to the famous Kareem’s restaurant. Started by Hussain Ahmad, the 50-year-old shop is run by his son Mohammed Ayaz.
The establishment has four Mohammeds. They divide their labour into making samosas, khastas, barfis, ladoos, gulab jamuns and imartis. The young Mohammed Mazrul beats the imarti dough — urad daal soaked overnight in water and mashed — in a giant platter. The older Noor Mohammed fills the paste in a scarf-sized cotton cloth and squeezes it out of an opening into a karahi of bubbling hot oil.
The cook’s experienced hand moves anti-clockwise over a small area in the karahi till enough loops pile up one over another, making one piece of imarti. This way, the entire surface is soon covered with these golden-brown disks. When they all puff up, Noor transfers the pieces into a cauldron of cardamom-flavoured sugar syrup. A few moments there, and the imartis are ready. Mohammed Zia Ul, still a child, packs the imartis for customers.
What follows is the usual fairy tale: the man takes a bite, the crisp surface explodes, the juice enters the mouth, and the imarti-eater lives happily ever after… till his final heart attack.
The Capital’s quick sweet guide
After trying out the barfis in all the Nathus, Bengalis and Aggarwal sweets in town, we suggest that you try blueberry cheese cake in Khan Market’s Big Chill, muffins in CP’s Cha Bar, saffron-flavoured phirni in Daryaganj’s Chor Bazaar, date pancake in South Ex’s Dai Chi, gajar halwa in New Rohtak Road’s Liberty Cinema Lane, milk cake in Kuchha Ghasi Ram’s Hemchand Ladli Prashad tea stall and dhoda barfi in Gurgaon’s Kishu di Hatti.