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Golden-brown, crisp, warm, sweet and dripping with aromatic sugar syrup, there are only few things more tempting than fresh jalebis which are a popular iftar item in Ramazan. Although they are available at mithai shops throughout the year, jalebis rise in estimation during Ramazan and are an almost essential part of the iftar spread.

This deep-fried dessert with its distinct, spiraled shape is closely associated with desi culture and is popular at festivals and celebrations. While the Indian subcontinent has enjoyed this sweetmeat for more than 500 years it is believed the dessert originated in Persia where it is known as zulbiya; legend has it that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir introduced it to India. This crispy sweet treat is equally popular in Bangladesh where it is called jilapi; if you have a jalebi craving while in Nepal or even Maldives, ask for jeri or zilebi respectively.

In North Africa it’s known as zlebia and despite the fact that it looks like the desi version, it tastes slightly different owing to the fact that it is soaked in honey instead of the saffron and sugar syrup that our jalebis are doused in. The Lebanese also have a dessert called zellabiya; though prepared in a similar way it is not spiraled. According to history books, the Jews of Egypt adapted the Middle Eastern zalabia as a celebratory treat for Hanukkah.

Despite the variation in the ingredients and spellings, jalebi, in its many incarnations is a festive food in many cultures of the world. In Afghanistan it is eaten in winter along with fish; a traditional breakfast in Delhi is jalebi and rabri (a milk-based dessert).You can try jalebi soaked in warm milk for sehri. Or just eat one as is and enjoy.

— Leila Mahfooz Barry

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on August 15, 2010.