There's always something enticing about a detour. Should you stay the course on a road trip or take the occasional unplanned turn off that highway if there's a possibility of a new discovery? I've always been the type who takes the punt. While there have been times when the detour ends up being a wasted effort, the number of times I've made wonderful discoveries far outweighs those unsuccessful detours. I still remember a short detour eight years ago while driving back from Bengaluru to Chennai that led to a sweet discovery in the historic town of Arcot.
The Arcot Nawabs once lorded the areas around Vellore and Ambur, important commercial towns that are on the Bengaluru-Chennai highway. Most biryani fans have heard of the Ambur biryani that can trace its roots to the Arcot Nawab kitchens. The story of the Makkan Peda also begins in these kitchens. Mothi Krishnan has heard this story many times over. He is the Executive Sous Chef at the Hilton Chennai and he grew up in Arcot. He recounted the same story about how a sweet shop owner was served a sweet delicacy prepared by a visiting cook from Mumbai at the Arcot Nawab's palace about 150 years ago (long before chefs travelled to luxury hotels to run food promotions).
This was the same sweet shop that I visited once in 2013 and again five years later (it wasn't an unplanned detour this time). The Arcot Chettiyar sweet stall is easy to drive past in the crowded market street of Arcot. This iconic store is over 190 years old, it was here that the first trials of what we now know as the Makkan Peda were run. PD Sundaram might be in his early 70s but he's still very passionate about his business and loves talking about the origins of the sweet that has brought some of Tamil Nadu's most illustrious political leaders to his shop front. His great grandfather decided to decode the sweet he tried at the Nawab's palace and then made some improvisations to the sweet that was originally crafted with maida dipped in palm sugar. He replaced the palm sugar with white sugar.
Think of the Makkan Peda as an improvised, richer version of a gulab jamun with a couple of wonderful twists. One is the filling - each khoya ball is stuffed with an assortment of dry fruits that include everything from pistachios, raisins, melon seeds and raisins. These nuts blunt the extra sweetness while the slightly layered textures are a tad different from the gulab jamun too. You might find similar versions of the Makkan peda around Arcot and Vellore, but locals like Chef Mothi Krishnan will point you in the direction of the inventors. The sugar syrup in the sweet, doesn't make it easy to order online. Your best bet is to try making this at home or take the detour the next time you're on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway.
Makkan Peda recipe
Recipe courtesy - Mothi Krishnan, Executive Sous Chef, the Hilton Chennai
(Serving - 15 pedas)
1 cup maida
3/4 cup khoya (unsweetened)
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp melted ghee
2 tbsp curd
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp mixed chopped nuts/dry fruits (assortment of cashews, badams, pista and raisins)
oil to deep fry
For the sugar syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
few strands saffron
- Add water, baking soda and khoya in a mixing bowl (Chef recommends using homemade khoya if you can). Whisk it well without any lumps.
- Then add ghee and curd. Whisk again, the mixture should creamy and smooth without any lumps (this is a key step; make sure there are no lumps).
- Add maida, mix well and bring together. Sprinkle water if needed. Do not knead much (just enough to bring together). The dough should slightly loose not too tight. Otherwise, the pedas tend to become extra hard. Cover and set aside for 15 mins,
- Meanwhile prepare the sugar syrup. Take water and sugar in a pan. Add saffron to it. Heat, boil until sticky consistency and set aside.
- Now pinch a small lemon sized ball, flatten (the pedas grow in size when fried, so flatten it well before frying) it make a dent in the centre add nuts and raisins. Pull the edges to the centre and close it. Now flatten it slightly. Repeat to finish the entire dough and keep it ready.
- Heat oil in a kadai - add few pedas may be 2-3 at a time and fry until dark golden brown.
- Drain and add to sugar syrup. Soak at least for 30 minutes.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.