Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Jaleebi Maker of Jhelum

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Motorcyclists pause at the hut with the wattle roofing. Even cars make the hundred-metre detour from the Grand Trunk Road (N-5) at the sign that says ‘Domeli Mor’, where the road for Domeli branches off to the south-east. It is said that no gala at Jhelum, Dina and Sohawa — the three nearby urban centres — is gastronomically complete sans the jalebis of Shabir Butt.

It was about the time of his birth in 1964 that Shabir Butt’s father moved his jalebi business from Taraki, about eight kilometres to the north. Taraki, incidentally, is where the railway line forcing its way through the Nili (or Sohawa) Hills makes one dramatic loop along the contours to attain the height of the Potohar Plateau. Friends who know tell me that the Chinese, being what they are, will straighten out this scenic hitch to cut the distance between Jhelum and Rawalpindi by a few kilometres.

If they do it, I say we should maintain the old Taraki railway station and the looping track as an attraction for railway buffs. But then security of the nearby army ordnance depot will of course be compromised. But, one day in the future, when grasses grow tall between the abandoned sleepers and among them dandelions and hawkbits bloom in season, and when the acacia trees along the track have encroached upon it, I will walk the trail to recall the heroism of railway surveyors who came here with their theodolites and plane tables back in the 1870s.

Before work began on the nearby Mangla Dam, says Shabir, the present road did not exist and the way for travellers to reach Domeli was via Taraki. Back then, his father had his jalebi business near Taraki village. When dam construction began at Mangla, a quarry for the earth filling of the dam was established somewhere southward of Domeli. That meant considerable dump truck and excavator traffic passing on what was then a newly-constructed shingle road. According to our man, as Domeli-bound travellers began to use this new dirt road, the Taraki-Domeli track fell into disuse. That was when the senior Butt saw that opportunity had flown elsewhere. From Taraki he moved his business to the spot it now occupies.

Shabir Butt chats as his chef fries fresh jalebi in a wok 

Business was hot as his father’s stall was the only one, says Shabir. Dumpster crews routinely paused at his father’s establishment and by and by a tea stall opened next to the jalebi joint. Time passed and the road was metalled to permit ordinary traffic between the Grand Trunk Road and Domeli and jalebi selling got even better.

Shabir joined his father after doing his matriculation in 1982. And that was just time enough to learn the secrets of the good jalebi for the senior man passed away four years later. But jalebis are jalebis, I observed, and when you’ve tasted one you’ve tasted them all. Also the spot where his father was once the only one, there was now a very bazaar of jalebi-makers. It was not possible for customers to want only his product among all the choice. That was not the case, said Shabir with a twinkle in his eye as he invited me to sample a squiggle of the confectionary from the large sieve where a freshly made batch was dripping oil into the vat below.

It was crisp; crisper than jalebis I had had elsewhere. That was the secret, smiled Shabir. Pack a batch of ordinary jalebis in a paper or plastic bag and within minutes they are limp and soggy. But his jalebis keep their crunchiness a tad longer, said the man. Like everyone else he used white flour, permitted — he emphasised it was only permitted — food colour and zero chemicals. Shabir was clearly current on modern sensibilities about matters of food. But he was not divulging the secret ingredient for the crispy produce.

I asked about the several other jalebi joints cheek by jowl with Shabir’s. By his claim, their numbers grew over the years until there were some six or seven of them, yet his business had not declined at all because none of them had perfected the recipe for the crisp jalebi. Old customers, the elderly who have been around since the time of his father, knew his product and came straight to him. Newcomers sometimes came with a reference and asked for him. If not, they purchased from any one of the other places and they never knew the real thing, said Shabir.

Despite devilish temptation, I did not tell him that ‘Butt jalebi’ that his customers asked for was a rather unappetising phrase. Jokingly I asked him if he used the ‘desi’ ghee that illegal factories in Lahore produced from the bones and fat of dead animals — donkeys, horses and even dogs among them. He touched his ears with both hands, ‘Tauba, tauba!’ [God forbid] he intoned gravely. As clarification he wordlessly pointed to a tin of vegetable oil sitting next to the hearth where the skillet sizzled.

As we were leaving, my friend purchased a kilogramme of jalebis for his father. Back in his home at Jhelum, we had our after lunch tea with him. Shabir Butt was spot on: the jalebis were still crisp. And, I must admit, my friend’s father could only have a wee portion of the confectionary!

Also in Dawn

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:56 AM,

4 Comments:

At October 30, 2017 at 2:22 PM, Blogger Rashid Toosy said...

Have to visit this place now !!!

 
At October 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM, Blogger Adnan Ahmed Varaich said...

Thank you for this "sweet" piece, Sir. Salivary glands are certainly stimulated. We also have a similar jalebi king at Faisalabad. In this business since long under the name and style "Bata/ Peeple jalebi. He got recognition of this name years ago when he used to sit under a "Peeple" tree in front of a Bata shoes outlet on Satiana Road, precisely near Chowk Jhaal Khanuana. Having shifted twice or thrice from original place of business he still carries the legacy of Peeple & Bata. And needs no mention that still his jalebi has no match in the entire region.

Wish to present you this legendary product of Faisalabad.Regards

 
At November 2, 2017 at 5:02 AM, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Rashid! Now a must for you and your jeep group!

 
At November 2, 2017 at 5:03 AM, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much, Adnan. I will definitely look up the Bata-Pipal jalebi maker when next in Lyallpur.

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days