Walking along Sansad Marg is quite tricky. There is very little room available on the pavement, especially near the bus stop opposite Park Hotel. One has to sidestep the lemon seller or the vendor of roasted peanuts (still in their shells) as well as the hordes of jacket wearing, muffler shrouded men waiting for their buses. And in the midst of all this confusion is the Winter Special salesman, the “Pattiwala” – seller of the flat peanut jaggery crisp – patti – “disc”.
The arrival of winter in Delhi is notified by the sudden appearance of these ruffian looking “boy-men” carrying plates decked with layers and layers of this brown, sweet discs of peanut and jaggery. And as it gets colder and closer to mid-January, the sesame jaggery discs appear. These flat discs are made of caramelised fresh jaggery stirred in with roasted peanuts or sesame and quickly poured onto plates or discs to solidify into that perfect patti shape – round discs of sweet, warm and comforting winter food.
Winters in Mumbai or Bombay are non-existent, but those few days in December and January when the mornings get crispy and nippy and the locals flaunt their woollens turns out its versions of the sweet at the bus-stop. Sweet meat sellers at bus stations hold aluminum trays stacked with little square orange pieces or cream ones (or at times both) arranged as though their were building a 2-D pyramid around a circular or square plate/tray. The orange ones are purportedly carrot candy or Gajar Pak(caramelised and turned into stiffer versions of the more popular gajar halwa – carrot halwa) while the cream coloured versions are the ginger candy, Aala Pak – or sugar and ginger juice cooked till the syrup solidifies.
Jaggery, sesame, carrot and ginger are fresh harvests of winter and many are purported to provide warmth to the body when eaten, and are perhaps the reaosn why Indian cities and their cultures turn these out to greet the misty mornings and the breezy afternoons. And all the more appreciated in the confines of the bus – bus rides can be chilly, even if the buses are bursting at their seams with passengers. Ask anyone who uses the BEST or the DTC.