Who wouldn’t love this jalebi? It’s a neat, palm-sized spiral of orange stickiness. It was made by drawing a circle in hot oil, then dunking the deep-fried wheel into fragrant syrup. It’s similar to our plaited koeksister, but much less of a mouthful. The whorl of a jalebi is not doughy. The circles are designed to crack in your mouth, releasing the syrup. It’s a snack I had many times in Delhi, but I’ve never liked one better than the one I had at BAPS Shayona.
BAPS Shayona – or Shayona’s, as it’s also known – occupies a corner of Rylands, not far from Athlone. It serves “pure” Indian vegetarian food.
My jalebi was made by hand, on the premises. It had gentle snap and a memorable lilt of fresh orange to the syrup. It’s not easy to make deep-fried sweets taste like food. The worst jalebis taste of food colouring, stale oil and cheap syrup. Not at Shayona’s.
The food here is delicious.
What about the samoosas? Cape Town generally does a good samoosa. How would Shayona’s rank? Remember there are restrictions here. “Pure” Hindu food contains no meat, no chemicals, no alcohol, no onions and no garlic.
There are about eight fillings to choose from, including potato and pea, cheese and corn or mixed veg. The fillings are deliciously spiced and perfectly cooked, but it’s the pastry that’s exceptional: bubbly-buttery and crisp, but without the shattering tendency or stale corners of commercially-produced competitors. I bought nine. The bags were empty when I got home.
Shayona’s is famous for its sweetmeats. There aren’t many places in South Africa that make the pyramids of mouthwatering burfi, halva and gulab common to display windows in Delhi and Mumbai. The ingredients are expensive – things like ground cashews, pistachios and coconut – the techniques are time-consuming and difficult, and these are perishable goods.
My halva was a shocker to look at: a square of firm green jelly with almond chunks suspended inside. It looked like shaped gloop and it might have tasted like everything I detest about Turkish delight: the cloying texture, the blandness, the bubblebath smell of rosewater. It didn’t taste like that.
The taste, in contrast to the colour, was subtle: some sweetness, some fruit, some jelly, some nuttiness and the crunch of whole nut. The texture was surprisingly pleasing. Again, it tasted like food.
I’m not a fan of burfi, but if you love condensed milk or marzipan – and preferably both – you’ll love it.
My favourite was the diamond of kaju katli, a sweet made with ground cashews, decorated with edible silver leaf. Visually, it had the appeal of Art Deco jewelry – a slim, hard, shiny shape with jaunty angles. Taste-wise, it was gentle and sophisticated, like a good cake made with ground almonds. It would be a delight to serve a platter of these silver diamonds with strong coffee.
Shayona’s also does hot meals. The offerings change according to the day, but I was thrilled to see some of my favourites: potato and lentil breyani; pea and paneer cheese curry and yellow dal soup.
That soup would not have been out of place in a fine dining restaurant. It was gorgeous: bright mustard yellow in colour, with a thin but velvety texture. Dal can taste musty, but the flavours here were fresh and bright: floating in the liquid were whole black peppercorns, whole red chillies, whole curry leaves and chunks of okra. It was a beautifully balanced dish that soothed and satisfied.
The breyani lacked nothing for the absence of meat. What was present was a variety of soft tastes and textures and a spice-warmed mouth: that’s what I call comfort food.
The pea and paneer dish – like the kidney bean curry and the potato curry – was delicately spiced. Shayona’s doesn’t do smack-you-around curries. The dishes here are quiet and humble, with smooth sauces and evenly, gently cooked ingredients.
You can taste the peace-loving atmosphere of Shayona’s in all its offerings. From the sweets to the curries to the handmade rotis and parathas – even to the bags of handmade crunchy snacks – none of the cooking processes have been rushed. No corners have been cut with cheap ingredients. The makers of the food cook with devotional intent: all the food here is offered to God before it is sold.
Shayona’s is a gem. Try the soothing curries. Pre-order snack platters for parties and get a gift box of sweets at Diwali. The food is terrific but the feel-good experience of Shayona’s is the real treat.
Shayona 021 637-2132; Cnr Pine and Murton Rds, Rylands; www.shayona.co.za
- Daisy Jones is author of Star Fish, a cookbook about sustainable fish. She has written restaurant reviews for Business Day and various guides.