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The Miracle Of Soan Papdi

The Miracle Of Soan Papdi

December 28, 2011

Where I was once lost, I found little bundles of sugary joy.

I couldn't say exactly when my junk food addiction began. It seems to have always been there.

I grew up in New Zealand with a smorgasbord of candies and snacks always within easy reach, provided I had the money to pay for them. Week to week, I'd save my cents for another treat at the local corner store, often splurging any precious cash the moment it reached my pocket. I'd look up hopefully at my paper-round-rich older brothers whenever they returned with yet another wax-paper lolly bag or packet of potato chips, cherishing any small offering. I suppose it was sometime around here that the addiction started, fuelled by two thrills: the high these sugary delights gave me, and the exquisite rarity with which I could attain them.

The transition to adulthood brought a paying job of my own, and the supermarket shelves opened their arms to me. Any new variety of potato chip, chocolate bar or lolly could and would be sampled and then either treasured or discarded, depending on my response. And then I moved to Japan, where junk food has been taken to a kind of master level of form, variety and availability in the form of convenience stores. A year there was the worst possible thing for such an addiction, a cycle of joy and self-disgust.

Through all of this, I somehow did not become fat, but my junk food addiction ballooned into something I didn't even notice anymore. It was just part of who I was. And then I moved to India.

The range was pitiful, especially compared with the Socratic ideal of junk food that I'd been subject to in Japan. I pushed down my addiction with spicy-masala-flavoured tapioca chips, boxes of Munch chocolate wafer bars and the occasional decadent Dairy Milk, none of which satisfied. A benefit of living in a tourist town meant a very slightly wider range, which included the more familiar Snickers and Bounty bars for – gasp – 40 rupees, an expense I could hardly justify on a regular basis.

One day, out of curiosity, I bought some tiny white paper packages out of a jar at a Varkala bakery. The shopkeeper smiled and wobbled his head knowingly as he handed over these nondescript cubic parcels. They could have been anything, even narcotics – and though they were only one rupee apiece, narcotics wasn't far from the truth. They were soan papdi.

Soan papdi is a sweet made from sugar, flour and any of a number of flavours, like almond, cardamom and pistachio. It somewhat resembles candy floss, but is more adequately described as sugar thread – that is, thousands of threads compressed into an edible mass. You can see a fascinating video of its production here; basically, it's a diabetic's worst nightmare, a pupil-dilating bite of crumbly sugar that melts gleefully in your mouth.

When I got these packages home and shared them with my housemate, we silently marvelled as the sugar shot into our bloodstreams. I'd bought a few, so we pulled the little cubes apart, examining the individual strands and scattering sugar threads all over the dining room table. We talked earnestly about what they reminded us of and how they made us feel. It was a moment of Discovery Abroad; a New India Experience.

It was also just what I needed, even a miracle of sorts. For one, it satisfied my desire for a fulfilling new type of exotic junk food. I soon learned that as well as these individual doses available on the counter, most bakeries and supermarkets (like Puthooram) stocked luxury packs of brand-name soan papdi. Their plastic coverings glistened with the promise of fascinating new flavours, pineapple chocolate orange mango and all, and it wasn't long before I'd tried them all.

The other miracle was that soan papdi helped me to learn moderation in my junk food intake. With all other junk food options paling into insignificance in the face of soan papdi's wonder, I hardly wanted anything else, but it was so massively sweet – in the literal sense – that I could only have one once in a while. (I later discovered halwa, which went some way to restoring by previous junk food habits; now that I'm back in New Zealand and confronted with an ever-increasing array of enticing products, I'm well and truly 'off the wagon'.)

There are a number of tasty delights that I can't wait to try the moment I get back to India. A masala dosa, a roadside chai, a fresh mango juice. Now that I've remembered it, soan papdi can be added to the list. I have no doubt that at future idle moments I will remember more, and this list will grow and grow.

Photo credit: Georgia Popplewell


    26.06.14 02:56 PM
    I am seller of Soan papdi from India.
    Any requirement , pl.inform me.
  • maxq nz (@maxqnz)
    maxq nz (@maxqnz)
    25.02.12 06:54 AM
    A paean to soan papdi, how awesome! I grew up with mithai, but somehow never tasted this treasure until a Panjabi nurse I worked with as a study coach and mentor gave me some as a thank you when she graduated. It was love at first bite! It might be a little ironic that she went to specialise in advanced diabetes nursing, but even knowing what I know now about desi diabetes, delights like soan papdi will still be high on my wish list. Thanks for a well-written piece that now has me in the mood for mithai (except gulab jamun, which I've never liked), and if you ever write one on rasgulle, that would be even better. :)
  • viya sheth
    viya sheth
    12.02.12 03:33 AM
    Nice write up :)
  • Manju
    04.02.12 08:38 PM
    Barn, please do try other Indian and Kerala desserts like the Mysurpa, carrot halwa, and Kaju (cashew) burfi.
  • GOCAnandhan
    10.01.12 11:57 AM
    sent --> send
  • GOCAnandhan
    10.01.12 11:55 AM
    Interesting piece. I regularly sent packets of soan papdi to Japan. Curious to know your Japanese connection. Did you blog about your experiences in Japan?
  • vaibhav
    05.01.12 06:23 PM
    Your craving for junk food is really scary! But, since you are OK with it, I might as well recommend you Gulab Jamun, Kaju Katli. Just for the record I don't like Soan Papdi, but its my mom's favourite.
  • keerthana
    30.12.11 10:39 PM
    Try Kaju Burfi..I just love it!
  • Bronwyn
    30.12.11 03:30 PM
    I am a chikku halwa kind of girl, but I loved this post. Retweeting <3
  • Kirklops
    30.12.11 12:32 PM
    For some reason I don't really like soan papdi. I prefer peda and halwa. And of course, as Harry said, do try sugar cane juice.
  • abbas f
    abbas f
    29.12.11 03:56 PM
    nice one! well written :)
  • Barun Jha
    Barun Jha
    29.12.11 01:15 PM
    Soan Papadi...irresistible if not addictive..
  • Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    29.12.11 09:41 AM
    Ah! the delights of Soan papadi, you can't but succumb :) Hope you're managing to find some Desi sweets in NZ as well!

    28.12.11 10:54 PM
    Hi BARNS

    It makes my mouth dry, when I eat soan Papdi, it's like pouring candy powder in your mouth, like you said it's like candy flos.
    My fave is golden Halava by mohanlal s mithai wala. :)

    One thing I will ask you to try is Sugar cane juice. Not recommended if you are diabetic. What the hell, you only live once. :)

  • Deepak
    28.12.11 01:10 PM
    Yummy sweet and a sweet post as well !
  • Sunil Deepak
    Sunil Deepak
    28.12.11 10:51 AM
    Even I loves soan papdi and used to eat loads of it. Soan papdi boxes are also available outside India so I was buying them regularly. Thankfully, now I seem to resist them better!
  • Satish Mutatkar
    Satish Mutatkar
    28.12.11 10:41 AM
    Truly a delightful post. Keep eating:)
  • Red Handed
    Red Handed
    28.12.11 06:35 AM
    That was the sweetest post ever. This place was truly blessed to have you here. And Soan Papdi...well I have a big box of it right on my table. Kerala and Varkala does miss you.

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