I have to be upfront about this one. Ale pak, the Maharashtrian winter-special sweet, is known multifariously as alyachi vadi or ginger barfi/candy. Not to be confused with the western candied ginger, where whole chunks of ginger are dunked into a sugar solution till crystallisation occurs, ale pak is more like a barfi. Albeit a super pungent barfi. Made with very simple ingredients found in every Indian kitchen, like the paste made from peeled, fresh ginger root, sugar, milk and ghee, this Maharashtrian winter treat sure is an acquired taste. And it isn't for everyone! It sure wasn't for me when I first tried it decades ago as a wee lad. But more on that later.
I distinctly remember thinking I was being punished in some weird, convoluted way when Mukadam Ma'am, my Marathi language 5th-grade teacher, handed a 10-year-old me my very first square of the heat-inducing ale pak. My face must surely have resembled those babies in memes where they pucker up their mouths after tasting lemon for the first time. Ale pak wasn't my thing. I made up my mind!
We were on a winter school trip to the Tadoba Andhari National Park near Nagpur and the January chills were getting the better of us all. Runny noses and sore throats were rife among us motley bunch of students. "Eat it!" Mukadam Ma'am commanded us. "Ale pak is the nicest medicine you kids will ever get to fight your cold and cough with." And boy, was she right or what!? By that evening, most of our colds had abated and runny noses dried up. All thanks to ale pak's instantaneous curative properties.
Over the years, I finally came to acquire a taste for it. Much like I did for blue cheese or sushi, for instance. It also helps that my home is in Dadar, Mumbai's Maharashtrian stronghold of culture and of course, cuisine. Sweet shops and restaurants like the hallowed trio of Panshikar, Prakash and Aaswad are all a stone's throw away from where I live. Their glass cabinets always stacked with trays upon trays laden with the greenish-hued beloved ale pak, available for around Rs 400 per kg.
While there are other iterations of ginger candy in India, like neighbouring Gujarat's aadu pak, which is made similarly, but with the addition (in my opinion unnecessary!) of desiccated coconut and topped off with roasted melon seeds, for me, the humble, unadorned ale pak is and will always be my go-to winter treat. Common cold or not!
Ale Pak Recipe
Recipe by: Saee Koranne-Khandekar author of Pangat, a Feast published by Hachette.
- 1 cup ginger paste
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1/4 + 1/4 cup milk
- 1tbsp + 1 tbsp ghee
- In a non-stick pan, place 1 tbsp ghee, the ginger paste, 1/4 cup milk and all of the sugar. Mix well. Turn on the flame to a low setting and cook continuously until the mixture begins to look foamy.
- Now, add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and cook until the mixture comes together into a ball. Add the remaining 1 tbsp. ghee and turn off the flame.
- Pat the mixture into a lightly greased pan or thali and cool for 20-30 mins.
- Cut into small squares and keep refrigerated if you live in a humid place.
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About Raul DiasA Mumbai-based writer, Raul is an ardent devotee of the peripatetic way of life. When not churning out his food and travel stories at a manic pace, he can be found either hitting the road for that elusive story or in the company of his three dogs!