For me, childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Patna are irrevocably tied to eating pedakia, the classic Bihari, half-moon shaped sweet that is very popular during Teej, Holi, and Diwali. No one visiting the city during these festivals can escape the aroma of the crisp dumplings, their crusts fried golden brown, wafting from sweetshops and temporary roadside stalls. During this time, restaurants tend to offer diners complimentary pedakia at the end of a meal.
Just the mention of this sweet fills my nostrils with its scent. Even when we were far away from Patna, my brothers and I eagerly awaited festive occasions when our mother made pedakia at home. We’d run home drenched in colours, in the midst of our high-spirited Holi celebrations, just to eat a few pieces, and run out again. I remember how comforting it was to return from school and find our house redolent with the aroma of pedakia being fried in pure ghee. The whiff of the roasting sooji or semolina, coconut, and freshly ground green cardamom used in the sweet filling elevated my mood. I’d tiptoe around the kitchen as mum filled mawa or evaporated milk solids, sooji, coconut, and nuts into a circle of maida dough. She expertly folded the dough into a semi-circular shape, and glued the edges with water.
The filling of this scrumptious sweet varies from home to home. The most delicious version I have eaten is rather unusual, made by my mother’s friend, from a traditional recipe handed down in her family. It entails the cumbersome process of making super-crisp wheat puris, drying them in the sun, grinding them, then mixing them with mawa and dry fruit to make the filling. As I’ve travelled around India, I’ve been thrilled to discover other local variants of the pedakia. The name and filling change with each region, but the fundamentals remain the same. In northern India, it is known as gujiya, and during Holi is available in every Delhi sweetshop. Karanjikai in Tamil Nadu and kajjikai in Karnataka, Andhra and Telangana are close cousins from the south. In Goa, there’s a version made during Christmas called neureos and during Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali, the version stuffed with desiccated coconut, poppy seeds, and nuts is called nevri. In Maharashtra, these two holidays are celebrated with karanji, filled with tasty dessicated coconut and jaggery. And in the Gujarati variation, the filling in the ghughra is usually flavoured with grated nutmeg and crushed saffron, and the dough is kneaded with warm milk.
Despite my love for all these variations, now that the baton of preparing pedakia at home is in my hand, I consciously steer clear of any innovations, trying to keep the shape, size, colour, texture, and taste close to the version from my childhood. Trying to improve upon a memory is futile.
Appeared in the Feb 2016 issue as “Half-Moon Memories”.
To taste some of Patna’s best pedakia, visit Sweet Home at Alankar Place on Boring Road. Several varieties are sold including the much sought-after mawa pedakia made in pure ghee (₹400 per kilo). Other popular Patna shops are Sangita, behind Kotwali Thana near the Patna Museum, and Cathy Confectioners in Kankarbagh.