In a small locale in Hyderabad’s Old City, a humble sweet made in just over a couple of shops could very well be the biggest rival to the popular Kaju Katli.
Baked and tender, Badam ki jali is a Hyderabadi sweet made with almonds and cashews. One bite and the baked dough melts into our mouths giving us a sugar high. Made in myriad shapes using metal moulds, there are hardly 3-4 shops in the city that sell Badam ki Jali. And where did they all get the recipe from?
Aijaz Unnisa, an octogenarian living in Sultanpur at Old City, takes the credit for this.
Speaking to TNM, Aijaz Unnisa recounts how her mother-in-law, Nafees Hussaini, shared the recipe of Badam ki jali when she was married into the family of the Hussainis.
“The recipe was a secret. My mother-in-law used to make it only during weddings and festivals at home. It was made in small amounts and was served as a dessert after meals. It’s only after my marriage that we opened a business and started selling the item based on orders. Until then, it was a sweet dish only a small section of people in our immediate family could devour,” Unnisa says.
Anything Hyderabadi is deemed to have an immediate connection with the Nizams. But not Badam ki Jali, says Unnisa. The cookie has roots that go back to as far as erstwhile Madras.
“The Nizams didn’t bring the item to the city. It was my mother-in-law who brought it along with her from Madras. Badam ki jali was a typical cookie made by the Muslim community in Old Madras and in the areas of Arcot. Now almost 60 years after her family migrated to Hyderabad, it’s difficult to find any trace of the sweet anywhere in Tamil Nadu,” Unnisa says.
The recipe which passed on to Unnisa from Nafees was later shared with Nasreen, Unnisa’s daughter-in-law, who then handed over the baton to her daughter-in-law, Aisha Jahan.
Aisha now runs the business, called the Imperial Sweet House, out of their house along with her husband Ali Hussain. The couple caters to orders of almost 10 kg of the delicacy every day. They have a few workers helping them in grinding and baking the cashews and almonds, all of them women.
Aisha and Unnisa
Inside the kitchen of the Hussainis, there are trays of badam ki jalis stacked one after the other, made in different colours and shapes. Moulds of different shapes- roses, betel leaves, stars, and diamonds- are filled with dough and baked in huge ovens. One of the workers gets us a batch of freshly baked jalis. The cookies are easily breakable and most importantly do not grease your hands with oil or ghee. They give you an instant sugar rush but nevertheless you finish them in a jiffy!
Unnisa recounts how in the past the cookies were baked in a huge furnace and an order from media house Eenadu, which required them to make 1,000 kgs of the sweet as gifts for their employees during Diwali.
“We worked for a week to dispatch the order. Day in and day out the entire house worked together, baking and packing the sweets so much so that we all started smelling of cashews and almonds,” Unnisa laughs, adding, “My knees were swollen for the next three but that was one of the biggest orders we have ever managed to get.”
Even though the cookie is usually made of only almonds, Unnisa’s son Ali says that the dough is made with a mix of cashew because of the rising costs of almonds.
“It’s a little difficult to get the cookies right as most of the work is done manually. The nuts are soaked overnight and peeled with hands. We are very particular that the nuts are peeled properly. Because if a customer finds even a tiny layer of the peel on the cookie, they mistake it for adulteration,” Ali says.
Along with Badam ki jalis, the family is also known for their Ashrafis, another confectionary made of almonds. The sweets aren’t baked and have a tinge of saffron added to the dough. The dough is then pressed between two coins (called Ashrafis from the Mughal era), hard enough to emboss Urdu inscriptions on both sides of the sweet.
The coins, according to Unnisa, are unique to the Hussainis and that’s solely the reason that there are no other confectioners in the city sell the Ashrafis.
“Many sweet shop owners have come to us asking for the coins so that they too can have a replica. But we cannot give away the coins because their worth is beyond any large amount they quote,” Ali says, to which Unnisa adds, “I have shared the recipe of Badam ki Jali with a couple of media persons who printed it in big in their papers and also many of my friends who wanted to know the secret. But did any of them get it right? There is no secret but it’s the love that the Hussaini women pass from one generation to the other that makes it almost impossible for the others to make a replica.”