Varanasi, also known as Banaras, is India’s spiritual capital. As one of the oldest permanently inhabited places in the world, the ancient city boasts a huge cultural heritage. Whilst strolling through the holy streets, visitors are exposed to an unbelievable multitude of colors, scents and noises. And so are we – simply an awe-inspiring experience with a special atmosphere in the air. Yet, despite this sensory overload, a rather simple item catches our attention over and over again. As we stroll through the old part of town, little clay pots with a light-yellow filling show up here and there. The fluffy substance is a true hidden gem of Varanasi which goes by the beautiful name of Malaiyo. The seemingly simple dessert consists of flavored milk froth with pistachios and almonds. But let us tell you, it will blow your mind with its out-of-this-world texture.
Authentic Malaiyo is as far as it gets from a mass produced sweet. For ages, only a few skilled producers have been making batches for a day’s consumption in a nightly process. The clever vendors have lined up one cup of the cloud-like goodie next to another to be prepared for all the sweet seekers. Passersby grab a pot for a couple of Rupees and indulge in the scarce delicacy. Once people are done spooning out the frothy deliciousness, another treat awaits. It is a common gesture that traditional vendors serve a complimentary top-up of the saffron-seasoned milk that settled to the base of the pan. So make sure not to forget about this little gift as you are still completely mesmerized by your first Malaiyo.
But What Makes Malaiyo So Extraordinary?
Well, there are a couple of aspects that make this Varanasi classic so special. First and foremost, its texture. We have slightly mentioned it before but it is worth praising it to the skies. Although the consistency looks quite firm from the outside, it has nothing to do with whipped cream or anything alike. The extremely light and airy foam is much more delicate and simply melts on your tongue. And as it does so, a smooth yet flavorful milky taste is released which somewhat resembles that of Eggnog, a Christmas staple in North America. Aromatic notes of saffron and cardamom create an extraordinary symphony with the slivers of almonds and pistachios.
The culinary experience alone is surely enough to rave about the traditional sweet. Yet, its temporary availability makes Malaiyo even more irresistible. No wonder, Varanasi locals are so excited for winter to come. The yellow froth can only be found during the colder season, or more specifically from around mid-November to the beginning of March. The reason for this lies in its unusual making process which depends on the existence of morning dew. But even during this time of the year, the mouth-watering treat is available at stands only until around 11 am. First, because the foam only keeps its distinct texture in the morning hours and second because shops run out of stock by that time anyway. Thus, if you ever intend to visit Varanasi, try to make sure that you go when Malaiyo is “in season”.
How Do Vendors Create This Heavenly Froth?
With foods that have been around for centuries and passed down generation by generation, every maker has perfected their own recipe. Although the individual nuances are well-kept secrets, the general concept is the same for all producers of original Malaiyo. Vendors already start the process the night before. After boiling milk in big iron pans known as Kadhai, they leave it out in the open overnight.
As the morning sun starts warming up the cold ground, dew drops start forming on the liquid’s surface. After this phenomenon has started the foaming process, it is up to the producers to turn it into the most heavenly froth. Thus, they blend in sugar, saffron and cardamom and whisk it for all one is worth until most of the milk has become a lighter-than-air foam. But even the most thoroughly churned Malaiyo only keeps during the low temperatures of winter mornings without using additives.
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Were To Get The Best Malaiyo In Varanasi
Surprisingly, Malaiyo is still an insider tip which locals often keep to themselves. Only slowly, the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness pops up here and there in the tourist areas of the holy city such as Gowdowlia, Sigra, Assi and Lanka. Despite this increasing availability, we highly advise to stick to the real deal. After all, the tourist version is just not the same and vendors make it more for a quick dollar than for selling a quality sweet. Here, you might come across rather stiff foam as people mix in substances to conserve the froth throughout the day. However, this is really not the experience you want to make and surely no reason to go all the way to Banaras.
Thus, for an authentic dose of Malaiyo, leave the Ganges River behind you and walk towards the streets of Old Varanasi. The narrow lane of Thatheri Gali in the Chaukhamba area is your best bet, here. It won’t take long for you to spot the huge pans full of the fluffy yellow cloud from which vendors scoop portions into the clay cups. Simply nibble your way through the offering and decide for yourself which one you like best. After all, another upside of the airy consistency is that you can easily enjoy several portions.
Make Your Own Malaiyo At Home
Bad news first: Unless you have had a cup of proper traditional Malaiyo in Varanasi, you will hardly succeed in making this amazing sweet at home. Sorry guys, but after all, how are you supposed to know if you have accomplished the level of fluffiness that distincts Malaiyo from all other creamy desserts? However, for everybody who has had the chance to try it, we have an authentic recipe for you below. Admittedly, we would almost fly back to India just for another cup. But it is nice to be able to satisfy your cravings at home, too. Let us know if you succeeded!
Nothing here yet – do you know of anything similar from other countries? Let us know!
Photos by SunnySideCircus