In Kolkata, Sunday morning breakfast is marked by puffy kochuris and piping-hot aloor torkari or chholar dal. Accompanying the mainstay, almost always, is its unostentatious aide — a jalebi or jilipi.
A good jalebi has three elements working for it: the umami flavours of the batter, the perfectly caramelised sugar syrup that hugs it, and the beautiful, golden-hued, crispy outer shell. Jilipis are the more modest Bengali counterparts — two-and-a-half slightly fatter circles, fried to be a little softer.
Extremely versatile, this delicious duo can be paired with vanilla ice cream or a generous dollop of rabri for a blissful dessert, they can be devoured alongside crispy egg chops and begunis as a tea-time snack, or even eaten individually to satiate a hankering.
Heaps of 'jalebis' can be seen piled up on carts at every local melaAmit Datta
So which is better: a jalebi or jilipi? A tough ask. Some hold a special place for jilipis but crave a good jalebi each Dussehra. Some are sticklers for jalebis and yet fall victim to the intoxicating aromas of jilipis at local melas.
Kolkata’s sought after sweet delights
While most Kolkatans have a neighbourhood shop for their winter morning fix, many travel to popular joints like Maharaja Snacks or Maharani Tea & Tiffin on Sarat Bose RoadAmit Datta
As the city sees a dip in mercury, the idea of beginning the day with a hot jalebi grows more intriguing. While most Kolkatans have a go-to neighbourhood shop for their winter morning fix, many travel the length of the city to popular joints like Maharaja Snacks or Maharani Tea & Tiffin on Sarat Bose Road to grab what many regard as the best jalebis in the city.
Ganguram & Sons and Tiwari Brothers Mithai Shop, with outlets scattered across Kolkata, offer jalebis traditional to the tee that also draw in a host of customers. In Manicktala, near the Maa Joy Kali temple, lies the two-and-a-half-century old sweet shop Adi Haridas Modak that sells channa jilipis — a mix of deep-fried chhana (paneer) and sugar with the feel of a pantua and shape of a jilipi. Mouchak in Gariahat and Naba Krishna Guin in Bow Bazar also rustle up mouth-watering channa jilipis.
Adi Haridas Modak has been in Shyambazar for over two centuries and is known to make delicious 'channa jilipis'Amit Datta
The third party to an ‘adda’
The perimeter of every neighbourhood tea stall in Kolkata sees groups of individuals gather around every day for an adda, which usually includes a healthy discussion of politics, technology or the atrocity that is the current price of vegetables. On occasion, a jilipi usually bought from the para’r dokan, accompanies the cha and chinwag.
A ‘jilipi,’ usually bought from the ‘parar dokan’, often accompanies the cha and chinwagAmit Datta
A particularly noteworthy such shop is Meda er dokaan near Trikone Park on C.I.T Road (the lane near the UCO Bank branch and ATM), which consistently serves the most palatable jilipis. Geetika on Sukea Street near the Maniktala junction is also a popular pick for a good jilipi. A stroll down S. N. Banerjee Road to the shop at the corner of the first lane after the Wellesley Street (now renamed Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road) crossing is required for a juicy jalebi.
Swirls of joy on a morning walk
Grab a 'thonga' of juicy 'jalebis' on the way home from a morning walkAmit Datta
The best part about morning walks or cycle rides on bone-chilling winter mornings is the opportunity to grab a thonga of juicy jalebis on the way home. In north Kolkata, one chances upon Dwarik’s Grandsons in Shyambazar and Kalash Sweets in Maniktala while central Kolkatans can head over to Jashoda Mistanna Bhandar and Doran near Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road for the crispiest jalebis. If you want to grab a thonga of channa jilipis instead, try any Bancharam or Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick that crosses your path.
Curbing a ravenous hunger
The culture of adda that prevails in the city is cemented into Kolkatans from their college days, when these sessions come with lingering lifespans and ravenous hunger.
For college-goers near Park Street, the infamous Chotu’s, a leap away from Lifeline Hospital, or Arun’s Tea Stall on Shakespeare Sarani are good joints. Arun’s Tea Stall whips up a creamy malai toast that’s the perfect side to their jalebis. College-goers in Park Circus craving a sweet snack can waltz over to Jaiswal Tasty Corner at the junction of Karaya Road and Beck Bagan Row or the smattering of the city’s many Sharma Tea House locations, which are usually within walking distance.
The jilipi vs jalebi debate is less talked about but still rife amongst Kolkatans (No, the chhanar jilipi is in a league of its own, and not involved). While the jury on the front-runner is still out, we’ll relish both.