AMAWAT being prepared—Photo by author
AMAWAT being prepared—Photo by author

Seventy-three-year-old Zarina Sadiq had never imagined that one day her secret recipe, of making amawat — as the home-made dried mango candy squares are referred to in Gujarati — would prove instrumental in creating a new business for her grandson and his four partners.

“Due to the pandemic, my tourism business that I had been associated with for the last ten years, was at a standstill and then I hit upon this idea of Khas o Aam,” said Sadiq’s grandson, 27-year-old Ali Asghar Adamjee, over phone from Rawalpindi, referring to the produce.

This over a century-old tradition of making amawat, made from mango pulp mixed with concentrated sugar solution and sun dried, is peculiar to the women of Bohra community living in the garrison town of Punjab. “The long spell of uninterrupted sunlight and the right amount of dryness in the atmosphere is only found in Rawalpindi,” insisted Adamjee. Karachi, where there are many Bohra caterers, have not succeeded in making the dehydrated mango candy because of the high humidity.

It was made in most homes, and because it is labour intensive, it was made in smaller quantities and usually consumed at home and some gifted to relatives and friends. “Now that we have tried our hands, we have come to realise how much work is involved in this,” said Adamjee.

However, since some two decades now, the more enterprising and younger women, not more than a dozen, from this community have started taking orders. Sarah Mustansir Valijee, one such person, whose amawat have been hugely popular, manages to sell all of the 40kgs she makes. She however, did not feel alarmed with the newcomers. “There is a place for everyone here,” she said calmly.

According to Adamjee, most women can produce not more than 40kgs. Opposed to that, he and his friends produced 600kgs in under a month. “From 10 kilos of mangoes you only get 1.5 kilo amawat,” he said.

The six to seven day process goes something like this: starting from buying 200kgs of mangoes from the mandi, to washing, peeling, slicing, cleaning the pit off any fruit, before taking out bucket loads of pulp, adding sugar and then pouring it into 115 greased trays. These trays are taken on the rooftop to dry and covered with netting to keep he flies and bees away. At sundown, all brought down and then taken up again the next day. The half dried candy is flipped to sun-bake the other side. “Our worst nightmare is if the weather suddenly turns cloudy after you have put the pulp to dry on the roof and you have to bring all the trays down,” said Admajee. Two more days of drying, this time on cloth before cutting them into equal squares.

In addition, unlike the women who put their squares in ordinary plastic bags and staple it, these young men are packaging their produce in zip-lock bags for a longer shelf life, and labelling the ingredients used as well as the expiry date.

Sadiq says there is a science to ensure that not only the taste is right, but the squares are firm and do not wilt or get rubbery. She had, over the years perfected it, through trial and error. For instance, she learnt good amawat cannot be made from just any mango as the water content differed in different species. She advised her grandson to only use langra aam as it was fibrous which helped in the drying of the pulp.

In addition, the sugar had to be adjusted based on how sweet the mango were. Too much or too little sugar will make your amawat chewy, pointed out Adamjee.

Today, with the change in the weather pattern, the amawat makers of Rawalpindi are getting fewer sunny days to produce this candy. “My dadi said they got a good two and a half months to produce amawat; but with the changing pattern of rainfall, it’s shortened considerably. We barely got a month this year; the mangoes arrived late and the monsoon rains started earlier,” he said adding: “We may need to turn to modern technology like dehydrating machines to scale up our business and beat the inclement weather.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020