Sandila Laddu: The Unspoken Hero

You’ll be sorry if you don’t try this ingenious laddu.

As the train pulls into the two-platform station of Sandila near Lucknow, men in grey uniforms troop out with small clay pots sealed with bright red cellophane plastic, nestling within are wares on the precipice of extinction—Sandila laddu—four small roundels, very similar to boondi laddu, but softer and paler, and coated in powdery sugar. The halt at Sandila (part of Hardoi District of Uttar Pradesh) is for barely a minute and a half, but that time is more than enough for the 8-10 brass badge wielding Railway vendors to cover the length of the train selling the laddus.

Sandila laddu may be the country cousin of the glamorous boondi laddu, but it is in no way lesser than any of the mainstream laddus of India. Unfortunately, the knowledge of this sweetmeat is restricted to the districts of central Uttar Pradesh. Having said that, Sandila laddu does find sporadic mentions in popular culture, for example, the film Piku, where the cantankerous father, Bhashkor’s (played by Amitabh Bachchan) doctor mentions Sandila laddu in great reverence to Irrfan Khan’s Rana Chaudhary. There is also local idiom, “Sandila ke laddu jo khaye pachtay, jo na khay woh bhi pachtay”, which states that if you try Sandila laddu you’ll be sorry because you’ll want more and if you don’t try it you will never know its greatness.

Also Read: For the Love of Laddu

Chef Ranveer Brar decrypts the enigma: “Originally, Uttar Pradesh was known as United Provinces consisting of a bunch of talukas and soobas. All of these provinces and estates, big and small, had their own rulers. For instance, Rampur, Lucknow and Mehmoodabad were the bigger estates while Kakori, Malihabad and Sandila were smaller ones; Sandila in particular, was a really small estate. Each estate had a signature dish that they would boast; bigger estates could have multiple while smaller estates had at least one star dish. Over the course of time, many of these dishes survived while other were lost.” Sandila’s laddu is one star that remained from the small estate.

While Sandila Railway Station has its own ‘Laddu Kaksh’ or the laddu room which supplies weary travellers with four laddus for Rs 10 in those clay pots, the hamlet of Sandila has plenty of halwais who also specialise in Sandila laddu. One such is Navin Gupta, a fourth generation halwai, who has inherited the tradecraft by being an apprentice. The lore in the family is that the family was in the mithai business even before the Railways came to the region.

Also Read: Thaggu ke Laddu-Kanpur's Sweet Thuggery, Since Independence

Gupta and his father gladly take us through the laddu making process. Besan is mixed with water to create a batter that of dosa batter consistency. The besan used though is not a refined or finely processed, it is granular to add texture to the laddu. No natural or artificial colouring agents are used to intensify the golden hue of the laddu.

While the batter is being made, ghee or vanaspati ghee is heated on a high flame. Vanaspati ghee has become the norm for Sandila laddus, informs Gupta. Pure ghee is used only when special orders are placed and the laddus also see a steep increase in pricing.

The batter is poured over a special slotted spatula with symmetrical holes, which is gently shaken. The batter passes right through the spatula and into the hot ghee forming hundreds of tiny spheres that are deep fried to a light golden colour.

Also Read: How to master the art of making besan laddu

And while still hot, these boondis are dunked into the sugar syrup. The syrup is pre-made to a single string consistency. Once the little spheres soften, they are scooped out of the syrup to drain the excess and left alone to cool down.

In the meanwhile, shakkar ka bhoora is incensed with kimam or kewra itar (pandan extract). Once the boondi is barely warm, the spheres of boondis are built into laddus with the flick of a wrist and magic of ghee-slick palms. The perfume transfers from the sugar onto the laddu. Et voilà, Sandila laddu!

Also read: All about Lalbaug's laddu-loving Ganesha

Both the deep frying of the batter and the use of sugar plays a crucial role in the popularity of Sandila laddu. Sandila was always an area of transition; a taluka that everyone passed by, whether you’re travelling to Lucknow or further east of the country, Chef Brar explains, adding that one stopped here for food that was travel friendly, “safari khana”. “Sandila as a matter of fact had a variety of such safari dishes. But what has survived and remained is the Sandila laddu, mostly because it has a long shelf life,  the laddu is rolled in shakkar ka bhoora where the sugar acts as a preservative.”

The simplicity of Sandila laddu is exceptional but it also belies the technique used that can only be mastered through years of unrelenting practice. There is no gimmick or fancy ingredients that Sandila laddu hides behind, it is an honest dessert unafraid of baring its soul to those willing to see. And for that reason, Sandila laddu needs to be recognised and celebrated!

Images: Sayoni Bhaduri


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