Winters in India have always been affairs to revel in. There is something about the season in this part of the world that makes one look forward to its homecoming. Of course ’tis the season of festivities everywhere but more so here where so many of nature’s beauties converge to make for a delectable treat for the senses. Of course there’s fun and frolic and festivals but what shines out through all this rendezvous of the celebrations is the panoply of food that entices and allures with their assertion. From sweet treats to specially curated preparations, the colder days of the year reside in such an emanating of warmth that makes this period indeed the heartiest of all experiences in existence.
Come winters and every part of our vibrant land necessarily plays along to the trope of one particularly sweet sensation. The basis of this hearty offering of health as well as taste might be specifically assigned to the northern part of the country but pretty much every region occurring somewhere within the dimensions of this vast identity relish their own variant of the sweet. Interestingly though despite their emerging in individuality, the overall assertion of this wintertime specialty happens to be rather uniform in its experience of the gastronomic.
In their general identifying under the chikki classification, with numerous similar and/ or related tastes unfurling under different names owing to slight tweaks and twists of the ingredients or the recipe, this is a sweet delight sweeter even in serving. The premise of its preparation is rather simple- a sweet base of either sugar or jaggery mixed with the main ingredient of what can assume numerous identities of nuts and seeds generally but not exclusively sums up the chikki character.
And yet, chikki would not be restricted also to only the Indian subcontinent as far as its popularity is concerned. Incredible indeed a serving of goodness that which might seem to defy its as sumptuous distinction, this preparation of the essentially good sweet stuff assumes quite a few other national identities as well. Be it the Brazilians snacking upon some pé-de-moleque candies or the Paraguayan dessert of ka’i ladrillo or the Thai version of the thua tat or even a more distinctive iteration of the pasteli entailed out of Greece and Cyprus and numerous such somewhat identical preparations, chikkis indeed command global popularity in all their steeping in salubrious simplicity.
Within the equally diversified Indian reputation, chikkis have rather special attributions in name. Most of these variants though avail their identity out of the most common primary ingredients of either groundnuts or sesame seeds. The Lonavala chikki would be the first assertion, as it is from this namesake Maharashtrian town that the treat emerges as in its predominantly Indian invention. But more ubiquitously understood happens to be the gajak even when it is scouting of a more definite identity in itself explored along a seeded trail of the sesame.
Down south and the peanut based candy brittle occurs as Kappalandi muthai in Kerala and as Kadalai mittai or the even more specific Kovilpatti Kadalai mittai in Tamil Nadu. Palli patti is the chikki as relished by people of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The eastern state of West Bengal as well as the areas around it both within the country and also outside in the neighboring land of Bangladesh allude to this versatile treat as the more colloquial gur badam. The jaggery hold manifests also with names like gud dani or gud patti. But it is chikki still which has ‘stuck’ indeed in this reference of the peanut preparation, derived out of the Marathi word Chikkat that which means sticky.
Sticky indeed would be chikkis in their every assertion, irrespective of the core of what constitutes its crunch. So much like the sesamed symphony curated as the Indore born gajak, that which plays out in greater global generality as the even more evident alluding in sesame seed candy quite simply, there also would be makes out of puffed rice that would come across in Bihari and Uttar Pradeshi jargon as layiya patti or as layee or lai in Sindhi utterance or as a stateless but regionwise specific of the maroonda in north India.
In such reiteration of Indianness, chikkis and its associated forms thereof might only be 19th century confections. But the worldlier markedness of their essence derived out of similar interpretations in prevailing would be old enough to occur as ancient. Apart from peanuts and sesame seeds and puffed rice, the other materials out of which similar preparations have long entailed would be everything from the nutty again necessities of cashews and almonds and pistachios to the seeded still identities harboured in musk melons and gourds and pumpkins even as other more ‘unexpected’ ingredients too would likely manifest.
And thus would emerge upon the fore of what leads to that sweet serving of nourishment and flavor and all rounded goodness delightful prospects of crunching and munching upon Bengal gram and beaten rice and desiccated coconut and so on and so forth. Incorporated within a preparation of jaggery or sugar syrup and them spread and shaped as slabs most often but also as orbs many a time, the resultant sweet necessarily span as a cooled and hard mass digged into in crisp, brittle bites of the sticky texture.
It is upon these grounds of sickly sweet stickiness that chikkis would come to find favor in numerous basis of their serving. Essentially calorie dense in their sweetened existence, accompanied as well by the characteristic flavouring and savouring of the very Indian richness that one cannot help but yield into through the gliding goodness of the ghee, even as the main ingredient of defining happens to be as needful necessities as well, chikkis stem as glorified messes of sensory gratification.
Glorious again would be the glowing glaze in which chikkis garner for themselves approval in the entices of their appearing as well. The viscous vivacity of the syrup in which they decipher the dawn of their defining sweetness also dress them in a gloss of prettiness. And gazing from such glassy shine of their form would also be bits and pieces of whatever it is that had churned up these squares or rounds of deliciousness. Evident therefore in their very make in the kind of identity they call upon themselves, the many myriad modes in which chikkis emerge in all encompassing of the ever desirable winter warmth is what makes them even worthier a seasonal delight to look forward to.
Of course the specialness of chikkis as being inviting of the wintertime wonders to take over would not quite hold in their mass production today as industrial commodities. They are made indeed in homes as well as also locally, in which case the delight of their indulging happens to be a special treat indeed effused as they would be with the authentic flavours of the season as well as of the region. But even otherwise in their ready availability as year round buys as candies or confections, chikkis serve still the original purpose of their intending.
Chikkis came to be this version of wholesome whip up of some commonly available but specially amazing superfood ingredients sometime in 1888 in a British ruled India when a railway line was commissioned in building from Bombay to Lonavala. With the tough terrain of the Western Ghats to maneuver through in construction, it was imperative indeed that the labourers engaged in this physically intensive endeavor should have for themselves convenient sources of quick energy doses to perform in full efficiency. And thus was created the iconic Lonavala Chikki by one Maganlal Agarwal, lending it therefore also the corresponding reputation of a namesake identity.
Such expectations in being instant servings of warmth and energy is indeed what have pretty much shaped up the traditional identity of chikkis as being wintertime essentials. Loaded with vitamins and nutrients, and rich as well as in polyphenols and antioxidants, chikkis have been an eternal favorite that finds assured place of resting upon the winter table. They make for handy snacks on the go particularly for children buoyant in all their wintertime frolicking around through the vacations. That they happen also to be delicious, irresistible affirmations in sweetness only ups the ante of regard for their receiving as delightful dishings by the young and the old alike.
In their definition that traverse the travails of numerous such attributes as energy boosters and quick snacks and worthy indulgences and guiltfree desserts, chikkis have since found themselves boasting of such stature that stick indeed to their impressive identity. Across the more trendy, desirable realm of their assertion as energy bars or protein bars or even as fat cutters while still being affordable, these truly traditional treats sees themselves turning in such impeccable standards of taste that validate their equally relevant stickiness maintained well indeed into the modern day as musings of vivid versatility rarely contended.