Ask any person who hails from Thirunelveli about the must-see spots in their town and iruttu kadai (/ dark shop) will definitely be mentioned. The shop is named iruttu kadai because of its lighting or rather the lack of it. Tirunelveli’s iruttu kadai halwa (இரூட்டூ கடை ஹல்வா) is Rajasthan’s gift to Tamil Nadu. This shop is owned by Rajputs who migrated from North India to Tamil Nadu 5 generations ago.
One interesting fact about this shop is that unlike other shops, iruttukadai is open only for a couple of hours per day. So crowd starts gathering even before the shop opens in the evening and as soon as the shop is open, halwa flies off the shelf and is over in no time. I have attached a video showing customers purchasing halwa in this shop below.
The first owner of this shop cooked the sweet by himself during the day and sold it during evening. It was poorly lit those days hence the name dark shop. This tiny dingy shop that looks more like a hole in the wall has not changed a thing and it has looked the same for 80+ years.
Their recipe was one of the best kept secrets. After many years, it started leaking out slowly and now people know how to make the sweet themselves. The locals who are very proud of their Thamirabarani river claim that the halwa made in their city tastes better because they use water from that river.
Don’t judge these good folks yet. This sweet has turned many sane folks into fanatics. One of our friends argued all night with us that this sugar and ghee (melted butter) laden dessert is one of the healthiest food items on earth. There are some who swear that you haven’t lived if you haven’t tasted Tirunelveli halwa.
Hey…You still haven’t met the crazy fanatics yet :D
Well can we blame them? This shop without even a name board sells the best halwa in the world.
Here is a video showing customers buying halwa from iruttu kadai halwa shop in thirunelveli. The shop sells only this sweet.
Don’t underestimate this shop by its appearance. This shops has a turnover that shall not be uttered because income tax folks are listening. hush hush. Packets of halwa purchased here get shipped by locals to all corners of the earth every single day.
So here is the recipe for this world famous Iruttu Kadai Tirunelveli Halwa (திருநேல்வெலி அல்வா)
Surprisingly for a much hyped sweet, the ingredients list is very short. Let not the short ingredient list fool you because the cooking time is quiet long. There are shorter methods but they wont taste as good. Take it from a tirunelveli gal.
Okay I confess I was born in this town but that does not make me one of those fanatics. But my sweet toothed dad was one :D and I have been called a dhrohi or betrayer for uttering words like diabetes and calories especially when folks are in food heaven enjoying this sweet that melts in the mouth and slides down the throat like silk.
Whole wheat or broken wheat – 1 cup
Sugar – 2 cups (I used brown or raw sugar and I altered the original recipe that calls for more sugar)
Ghee / Clarified butter – 1 Cup. (Original recipe calls for 2 cups)
Cashew nuts and Raisins – optional.
Soak broken wheat in water in a big vessel overnight or a minimum of 6 hours. Take a big vessel because you will be adding more water later.
When the wheat is soaked and soft you can crush it with hands to extract milk. The traditional method calls for grinding using aatu ural.
Grind the soaked broken wheat in a blender adding water little by little.
Filter and remove the wheat milk and grind again adding more water. Repeat this 2 or three times.
After all the milk has been extracted, the waste looks like this.
Don’t discard this fibrous waste. This is an excellent skin scrubber. Apply lavishly on face and neck and let it dry for 5 – 10 minutes. Using the tip of your fingers, exfoliate with gentle circular motion for clear skin.
Keep the wheat milk aside undisturbed for 6 more hours to ferment. Keep the vessel in a place where it will not be moved.
After 6 hours, you will find that sedimentation has happened. Wheat milk solids are at the bottom of the vessel and clear water is at the top now. Gently tilt the vessel and discard the water.
If you prefer using regular processed sugar crystals, make caramel first so it will turn brown. I used raw sugar / brown sugar because it is healthier and gives the sweet its natural brown color and authentic taste.
So if you are using white sugar, heat it with just enough water to melt it. Keep stirring till the syrup turns brown and sticky and becomes stringy caramel. Make sure the sugar does not crystallize.
Now add 1 cup of ghee / melted butter and mix well for 2 minutes.
Then add the wheat milk and stir well in medium flame. The cooking time depends on the amount of water . It took me about 2 hours of continuous stirring but it was totally worth it.
If you have a splatter screen, now will be the time to use it and protect your stove surface. I made just enough for a small family so I did not have to use it.
Keep stirring till ghee starts separating and begins to ooze out. Some prefer to leave it as such because ghee increases the taste. Some remove the fat that oozes out to reduce calories.
When the halwa does not stick to the vessel and looks like this, it is ready.
Pour it into a vessel or tray and wait for it to set.
Make slices and serve. Warm glistening halwa oozing with ghee is served in banana leaves and banana leaves add special taste and flavor.
It can be safely said that most Indians grew up eating this yummy dessert. Mention halwa and you can see most of them trying hard not to smack their lips.
A couple of interesting facts about halwa. Those from the south must be aware of the trio (SKC) – Sweet, Karam (spicy) and Coffee that is served during bride seeing ceremony when the groom goes to the bride’s house to see her for the first time. Halwa is the most preferred sweet for this special occasion (nothing but the best for the future son in law ;) ) and mixture is served as Karam or spicy dish.
They both compliment one another very well if you ask me. (Sorry for the stingy small slices of halwa shown in the picture. My pathetic attempt at portion control that flew out the window because I went for seconds… okay okay the third piece was small I swear …. or was it the fourth piece…… hey who is counting :)
One little movie trivia for you and a warning for you innocent folks out there – Beware when a Tamilian talks about giving halwa to someone.
The phrase “to give halwa to someone” means “to deceive someone”. Thanks to a Tamil movie in which a guy seduces his girl friends by feeding them tasty halwa only to ditch them later, the words, “giving halwa” have taken a whole different meaning. You can complain about Tamil movies all you want but we were the ones who broke the stereotype that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. See you can never take that away from us. Haha!
Adding the following quick method for making tirunelveli halwa after Srividhya Govindarajan asked for a quicker version. (Sorry no pictures for this).
SG, this is for you :D
You can either use wheat flour / all purpose flour or a mixture of both.
Mix it as you would make chapathi dough with just enough water. Make the dough into a ball. Set it aside and let it rest (optional) for an hour.
Take water in a bowl and drop the ball inside the water. You can either let it soak in the water for 6 hours and let osmosis do its work of extracting the milk or you can rinse the ball in the water with your hands using gentle (important) pressure and extract the milk immediately. In this method, you will get a gelatinous elastic like fiber after you have extracted all the milk. Discard it and use only the milk for making halwa.
Now you have the wheat milk ready. You can either ferment it like mentioned above or skip that step and start cooking the halwa right away.
This is a much quicker method of making thirunelveli halwa. But please resist that temptation to add thickening agents like milk powder or corn starch.
When we were little kids with little patience (okay okay zero patience), we cooked halwa in this method. It was during school summer vacation and a bunch of kids from our street joined together and cooked this halwa in my house. A huge bowl of water was placed on the floor and all of us sat around it. Each one of us had our own dough ball and we extracted the wheat milk by washing the dough. Then we took turns (nah we fought) to stir the halwa. Half of it was consumed in the name of tasting. Then we partitioned the halwa and gave one part to each house in the street. We were beaming with pride that we made halwa but I not sure if any of it was consumed by the adults because they knew that the halwa was made by a dozen kids who put their hands inside the vessel. ha ha ha. In our defense we did wash our hands with soap. That should count for something right? Aww those fun days of community cooking. Can any expensive toy match this? Nah.
Hey who said too many cooks can spoil the broth. The halwa we made was super yummy. I swear.
Do share this with your friends and also try this sweet at home and tell us how it tasted.