Tuesday, July 1, 2014
The halwa from Tirunelveli's Iruttukadai (Dark shop) is famous enough to merit its own geographical indicator, but then it is only one of the many shops in that town making and selling the eponymous sweet. There is no official account as to how the halwa originated. One version has it that the zamindar of Chokkampatti, when on a trip to Kasi, was bowled over by the taste of the halwa there. He hired some cooks - they were Rajputs, incidentally - to take over the kitchen at the Chokkampatti palace. A couple of generations later (probably), someone from the family thought of selling the halwa in Tirunelveli.
The credit for actually selling the halwa in Tirunelveli goes to a lady named Lakshmi, who went around selling it door to door. Seeing the demand generated by her, Jegan Singh opened up the first exclusive halwa shop there. That was in 1882. And he spawned the cult of the Tirunelveli halwa. No one is sure about the number of shops in that city which sell the Tirunelveli halwa, but for a long while, it was not distributed beyond the city. We in Chennai would have to wait for a friend to bring it from its origins - and then, when it was distributed, there would be barely enough of it to stem the drooling.
But not any more. The halwais of Tirunelveli have spread out geographically. Many shops in Chennai stock the product, delivered fresh every day. But there are only a few which have set up a branch office in the city. Leading them, of course, is the originator of the halwa. Jegan Singh's store, Sri Lakshmi Vilas - named for the lady who began the selling - will give you the stuff from their exclusive outlet in West Mambalam. And it is not just any old Tirunelveli halwa; this one comes with the added descriptor, "Lala alva", declaring the authenticity of its lineage!