September 26, 2019
It could be sheer coincidence that the word ‘halwa’ rhymes so well with saliva and their relation is so intense that a visit to Tirunelveli would simply confirm this.
It is customary for anyone visiting Tirunelveli to savour the delicious ghee-dripping halwa and carry a packet back home. Tirunelveli’s tryst with halwa dates back to the 1880s when the first shop was opened. And today, the third generation continues giving visitors a taste of this sweet dish.
The Lakshmi Vilas shop was the first to make such halwa in the latter part of the 19th Century. It is part of the Iruttu Kadai brand, (the dark shop that has earned the name from the street where after dusk, people used to queue up in front of the dimly lit shop to buy the halwa. It functions by dusk and closes as soon as it runs out of stocks for the day).
Today, Kavitha H, the third generation proprietor, says she took over from her father who ran the business after he inherited it from Jagan Singh, the entrepreneur, who was responsible for Tirunelveli earning fame for this sweet dish.
Jagan Singh’s family traces its roots to Rajasthan. Even now the Gingee fort, a towering structure of the Rajput link to the history of the place near Villupuram, is close to this family. The waters of the Thamaraibarani river too may have contributed to the sweetness of the dish.
It is a unique dish, says Kavitha. “Wheat is soaked and the milk is extracted and left to ferment. The recipe is a trade secret that is kept close within the family. The fermented extract is then mixed with ghee and sugar/jaggery to prepare this mouth-watering halwa.”
Asked whether labour from outside is used to make the halwa (as the streets are filled with halwa makers), she says labour from outside is used only for the extraction process. After that the final product is made by those within the family.
There is no colour added and neither are preservatives used. The pure ghee used gives it not just the flavour but helps in keeping the halwa safe for consumption up to three months.
While she is unwilling to say how much of it is produced daily, on an average, they make at least 75 kg and it all gets sold. There are orders from outside and the packets are couriered, making the halwa go places, quite literally!
Her partner in the business, Yuvraj, who shared the experience of entrepreneurship, says the brand of Tirunelveli Hot Halwa is made by their enterprise Bilwa Foods, a part of Lakshmi Vilas. It was only recently that they opened a retail outlet and would soon be opening another.
The duo says the business is brisk only owing to unique quality of the halwa they make. They are confident of spreading the sweetness far and wide.