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Delhi’s Gulab Jamun guide

We embark on a taste trip to find out where you can bite into the city’s softest, yummiest waffle balls. Read on to get a delicious gulab jamun experience.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2010 01:36 IST
Nithya Subramanian

Gulab jamuns, those sinful little fried rounds, are ubiquitous in India. Every restaurant and every sweet store serves some version of them. So often have they been served that we forget what it takes to make the sweet truly great. A perfect gulab jamun will be that elusive shade between gold and brown, and served pleasantly warm.

It will smell of the warmth of milk and the sweetness of sugar. The crust, fried to perfection, will have a grainy crumb, slightly rough with crystallised sugar. The inside, the white heart of the jamun, will be smooth. It will look dense, but will yield to the slightest pressure, changing shape, moulding itself to your mouth for an instant before it melts away.

With that vision in our minds, we set out to find the best gulab jamuns in the old city. It hasn't been an easy task, and we are very conscious of having missed several sweet stores and their offerings during our quest. But based upon their word of mouth reputations, we short-listed five stores as most likely to provide that ultimate gulab jamun experience. We only sampled their offerings once, not going back for second and third tastings to confirm our findings. We must also add that each of the stores had a whole mouthwatering display of sweets besides their jamuns. Just because their jamuns weren't the best, it doesn't mean their other sweets aren't.

The jamuns were rated on the basis of appearance, smell, crust, insides and syrup.

No. 5 Chaina Ram Sindhi Confections, along the wall of the Fatehpuri mosque, Fatehpur
Price:
Rs15
Shape: Oblong
Dimensions: 3.5" long, 1.2" dia

These jamuns were served piping hot, but proved a bit of a disappointment. The first warning sign was the long crack running down the length of the sweet, a clear indication of overly hot oil and not enough care. The syrup contained pistachios and was the satisfying middle between too thick and too thin. But through it all, the smell of the oil that the jamuns had been fried in was prevalent, and not too pleasant. One does not after all, need to be reminded of how sinful one's stolen pleasures are. The crust was somewhat grainy, but not too distinct from the insides, which had a compact crumb. The whole jamun tasted too sweet and oily, and was hard to finish.

No. 4 Shyam Snacks, Chawri Bazar, opposite the turning to Nai Sarak
Price:
Rs 10
Shape: Oblong
Dimensions: 4" long, 2"dia

These were certainly the largest gulab jamuns we sampled. They were served piping hot, perhaps a little too hot for the tongues of finicky reviewers. The colour was a perfect golden-brown. The syrup, however, was too sweet, and that, combined with the size of the jamun, made it slightly too large a serving, if there could be such a thing. There was no clear distinction between the crust and the insides here; it was all uniformly sweet, not leaving much space for other tastes. The insides of the jamun were unfortunately hollow, with none of that dense whiteness that we expected.

No. 3 Bikanervala, opposite HDFC Bank, Chandni Chowk
Price:
Rs 12
Shape: Spherical
Dimensions: 2.5" dia

These gulab jamuns were served so hot, they could burn tongues. While we waited for our jamun to cool, though, we had plenty of time to admire its perfect colouring. The crust was definitely a larger crumb than the insides, but perhaps because of the temperature at which they were served, or because of the pistachio nestled in a hollow at the centre, these jamuns simply weren't as dense as we'd have liked.

No. 2 Haldiram's, Chandni Chowk, beside the fountain.
Price: Rs 15
Shape: Spherical
Dimensions: 2.5" dia

These gulab jamuns were a little lighter in colour than expected, but were served pleasantly warm. They had a nice crust and were not overly sweet. The insides were filled with minced pistachios, which lent a pleasant flavour, but made them simply not dense enough. We know we're starting to sound like Goldilocks here, but we finally found the jamuns that were just right, at:

No. 1 Shiv Mishthan Bhandar, at the corner of Kuchcha Hasiram and Chandni Chowk, Fathepuri
Price:
Rs 12.5
Shape: Oblong
Dimensions: 3" long, 1.5" dia

The gulab jamuns were given to us just warm. The syrup looked thick and reluctant and yellow. The jamun was very sweet, but the milkiness of the insides came through. The crust was firm and had a large crumb, while the insides were ivory white and creamy. There was no additional spice; the taste provided by the milky insides did it.