Bon Bons in Lahore
Mini Market in Gulberg was less than a kilometre away from our family home. On hot summer nights, after dinner, we would walk to the market with my parents, cousins- Saadiya & Ashi, my uncle- Kaka Tarik and my aunt- Aunty Shahla. With 10 rupees to call our own, Saadiya, Ashi and I would buy a Polka mango flavour ice cream, the kind you eat out of the cup with the tiny wooden spatula. Then we’d move on to buy Mitchell’s bon bon sweeties from the nearby kiosk to add more sugar to the mix.
Emerging from our gated home, we’d walk past the khajooron wala ghar; the home with the date tree. “That house is haunted,” my cousin Ashi would tell us, her brown topaz eyes widening, “there are jinn which wrap themselves around that tree at night.” Ashi had guzzled a whole jug of a goat’s fresh blood when she was 5. And we knew it was true- because she had told us all so, even if we had not seen it. She continued to tell us the story about the jinns with her ponytail swishing left and right. Ashi had hair that I envy to this day- like golden brown spun silk.
For 1 rupee you could get 4 bon bon sweeties. So for 5 rupees we could get 20. Each sweety was brittle from outside, almost cracking your teeth, and inside was this soft, gooey sweetness. My favourite was raspberry. As the vendor stuffed the sweeties into the khaki envelope one by one, I made sure he didn’t add any lemon or lime flavours. And if he did, I’d just palm them off to my Baba. He liked sour sweeties. The adults would buy a chocbar or maybe have some paan with a bottle of cool of RC Cola. Ashi would buy imli tamarind paste candy which is sweet and sour and makes your mouth pucker up with each bite. (Imli was verboten, as it would “catch” our throats and make us cough, but we didn’t fear our parents’ wrath; for it tasted far too good.) Saadiya would buy an asssortment of Mitchell’s sweeties. And once home, we would pile it all together and share the goodies whilst playing carom board till the wee hours of the morning.
Ashi always used to win.
Maybe it was that goat’s blood she had had as a child.
Those days are long gone now, as we can no longer walk to Mini Market due to the traffic congestion and the sprouting of commercial buildings near our home. In fact, no one walks along the streets of Lahore, the city of my birth, anymore. I miss those dense summer nights, with Kaka clutching his cane, walking behind us as we scurried ahead of him, giggling and looking forward to getting our sugar fix.
These Persian sweeties I prepared are a far cry from the bon bons of my childhood, but think of these more as sweeties for adults. Caramel notes from the honey with currents of saffron running through it, almonds for textural crunch, and pistachios for adornment. The heady taste of sugar sends me right back to those evenings walks to Mini Market with my family; especially Saadiya and Ashi.
Serves 4 during tea time
You will need a tray lined with parchment/wax paper
NB: Don’t let the colour of the sugar darken. I have deliberately recommended that the colour be light golden. I have found that if you let it caramelise (darken) too much, it will mask the flavour of saffron. If you prefer your brittle darker, then you can let it cook a few more minutes than what I have recommended.
*1 cup sugar
*3 tbsp butter
*2 tbsp honey
*1 1/2 tsp saffron, crushed in a mortar and pestle, add 2 tbsp of water to it
*1/2 cup slivered almonds, unsalted
*1/2 cup slivered pistachios, unsalted
*In a medium saucepan, add sugar, butter and honey on medium heat.
*Stir for 7 minutes or till the sugar melts and the colour turns a light golden. (NB: Be careful not to let it darken too much, or it will taste bitter.)
*Add the almonds and stir gently, do not over mix. Slowly, the mixture will begin to darken.
*At this point, add the saffron water.
*Drop a spoonful of the mix on the parchment paper, if it quickly solidifies, turn the heat to low and start to dollop a spoon each onto the parchment/wax paper.
*Allow to cool for 1 hour.