While we all argue over adding or not adding it in the muri makha, I am sure only a few of us know the actual history of jilapi
"Apa, muri makhay jilapi dimu?" (Apa, shall I add jilapis in the puffed rice mix?)
Before I could say anything, my colleague Zia screamed: "no please don't". I remember that sheer annoyance in his face when the cook wanted to add the sweet in the savoury.
I was too tired - to talk, move or even eat. It had been a 12-hour journey from Dhaka to Lohagara Upazila in Chattogram, with a stopover in the port city.
I announced that I will only eat one jilapi for Iftar - and apparently I did not touch anything else. It was during Ramadan last year, mid of May and the weather was as cruel as it could be.
The only thing that excites me about Iftar and the food fiesta during Ramadan is nothing but Jilapi. A crunchy outside, chewy inside - coated in sugar syrup - coiled and twisted sweetness, which is enough to lift my mood after a long day of fast.
For me, and I am sure many others, jilapi is a must during Iftar. Unless we feel that splash of sugar syrup inside our mouths, Iftar is never complete. Moreover, jilapi also plays a key role in the sweet debate: to add or not add it in the "muri makha" - another must for iftar everywhere.
While we all argue over adding or not adding it in the muri makha, I am sure only a few of us know the actual history of jilapi.
While I started asking people, many said it originated from India. But the truth is that it did not. The jilapi we eat is a version of West Asian "Zolabiya" or "Zalabiya." In Iran, Zalabiya was a festive treat, which was enjoyed by everybody, especially during the Iftar gatherings of Ramadan.
In the 13th century, noted writer Muhammad bin Hasan Al-Baghdadi, collected all the dishes of the time and featured it in his cookbook, 'Kitab Al-Tabeekh', where Zalabiya was mentioned for the very first time.
It was introduced in the subcontinent when Turkish and Persian traders and artisans started to settle on the Indian shores in the medieval times.
The name Jalebi in India and Jilapi in Bangladesh derived from Zalabiya. By the 15th century, it became a mainstay on festive occasions, weddings and even temple food.
In Dhaka, jilapi is available year-round in a handful of sweet shops and sometimes at local restaurants as an evening snack item. However, one might say they come in different styles. Dhaka jilapis mostly appear in two variants: thick and thin -- giving rise to polarising opinions among foodies.
Over time, the sweet has become a staple of Dhaka's Ramadan culture. High-end restaurants and hotels will have jilapis cooked in ghee and sprinkled with expensive saffron, adding layers of flair.
Food stalls and restaurants on every street will have their own varieties -- thick, thin, crispy, soft and shahi jilapi… the list goes on. The price range starts from roughly Tk 150 and can go as high as Tk1200 per kilo.
But the lockdown this year has troubled the jilapi-lovers. Where do we find the jilapi? While many restaurants provided home delivery of jilapis, some people also chose to make their own customised ones at home.
Facebook has been flooded with pictures of people making jalebi, some coiled, some messy and many even looked like maps. I have seen pictures of jilapis which rather looked like fried sticks of cinnamon. But, then again, having a jilapi is important, the size and coil barely matters.
But going back to the sweet debate over jilapi - to add or not add in the muri makha - that is still a mystery. I suggest some mysteries better remain untouched.