Halwas, Mithayi and Faral on display for customers at Joshi Budhakaka Mahim Halwawala shop.

The eternal appeal of Mahim’s Ice Halwa

Mumbai, January 4: The vibrant Mahim Mela has once again lit up the streets of this locality with its annual fervor. Lakhs of devotees and followers gather at the revered shrine of Sufi saint Makhdoom Mahimi on Veer Savarkar Road (formerly Cadell Road), to go through thanksgiving rituals and pray for further favours. What makes this gathering truly remarkable is its inclusive nature, welcoming people from various faiths, fostering unity and harmony.

Amidst the spiritual fervor, the mela transforms into a culinary paradise, boasting a variety of delectable eats, from traditional delights like halwa paratha to an assortment of sweets. But what stands out is Joshi Budhakaka’s halwa shop, located in Kapad Bazar, just off Cadell Road, not far from the shrine itself.

The Sufi saint, in whose honour the dargah was built, died in 1431, when Mahim itself was part of the Gujarat Sultanate. Joshi Budhakaka’s shop came along in early 1800, when even trams were not around. However, earlier than that was Maoji Joshi in 1793, the “Budhakaka (old uncle) who gave his name to the establishment as he hawked sweets and halwa door to door. He had come from Gujarat to do so.

Its location in Mahim, the epicenter of the Mela, plays a crucial role in the popularity of the ice halwa, so-called because, unlike regular Mahim halwa (also available at the shop), this one comes in thin sheets separated by wax paper. When held up to the light, it looks almost transparent.

The shop’s longstanding presence in Mahim and its association with the Mela over the years have created a tradition where people visit specifically during this time to savor the exclusive halwa, making it an integral part of the Mela’s experience. Rich and decadent, made with pure ghee, sugar, and milk, the 12 days of the fair sees the fragrant layers of ice halwa fly off the shelves. There is also an “urus ka burfi” made only during the duration, “the taste enriched by blessings and faith”, according to Ramchandra Joshi (80), the current head of the family, who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

The preparation ritual is intricate, starting on the first day of the Mela to ensure its utmost freshness throughout. “Everyday for the 10-12 days it is made fresh and on the first day of the Mela, it is offered to the shrine and then again on the last day,” Joshi said.

The ice halwa, which is the fruit of experimentation by the founding Joshi Budhakaka, has a complicated preparation ritual.  First, there is careful blending of flour, ghee and sugar so that it reaches a particular tried and tested consistency. After this, the mixture is spread on wooden planks in a thin layer, infused with saffron, sprinkled with dry fruits, and then cut into familiar four-inch squares. Customers buy the halwa in short stacks, each layer separated from the one below with butter paper.

Hundreds of people coming every day to the shop during the Mela just to buy this special ice halwa, Hindus, Muslims, even Christians. Joshi takes pride in pointing out that close by there is a Mandir and also the big churches, so this locality is truly inclusive, like the dargah.

Over the years, the shop has passed down through the generations, and it is now run by Ramchandra Joshi, the ninth-generation owner.

Press him for more information and the octogenarian reveals some of the illustrious names of those who bought from his shop. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was among these and Joshi Budhakaka is proud of the letter he wrote, recommending the sweets to everyone.   The shop has been serving generations of Mumbaikars with its delicious sweets and snacks, and it remains a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

Despite facing competition from imitators, Joshi remains unfazed. “Superior quality will always stand out,” he says. In a city known for its street food and culinary delights, Joshi Budhakaka Mahim Halvawala continues to be a beacon of tradition and taste, a testament to the sweet legacy of a “penchant for experimentation” that began generations ago in the heart of Mahim.

By St Pauls Institute Postgraduate Students, Mariyam Shaikh and Vaishnavi Rasanbhaire

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