MULTAN: In one of the oldest cities in South Asia, preparing the sweet delicacy known as Sohan Halwa would usually take 35-year-old Muhammad Fayyaz hours at a time.
His routine involves a lot of stirring in a barely ventilated kitchen, before the brown mixture cools off and becomes thick enough for other workers to pack them into shiny tin boxes for sale. When one batch is complete, Fayyaz moves on to another.
“It takes us a maximum of four to five hours to prepare this,” Fayyaz said.
The confection, he said, is a blend of corn flour, sugar, cardamom, and desi ghee, or clarified butter. They are usually topped with dried fruits, which adds texture and flavor to the sweet and thick dish.
The Pakistani city of Multan, located in the southern part of Punjab province, has seen its fair share of history dating back thousands of years, including the time when it was conquered by Alexander the Great.
Today, Multan has also garnered a reputation for its world-famous mangoes and traditional dessert Sohan Halwa, which are sold in many shops across the city.
Some establishments, such as Ahmad Sohan Halwa, Hafiz Ka Multani Sohan Halwa, and Al-Khair Sweets and Bakers, have been in business for decades and see hundreds of visitors daily who are eager to get a taste of the popular sweets.
The dessert known throughout Pakistan has also gained a reputation in the Middle East, said Ahmad Ali, who manages local business Ahmad Multani Sohan Halwa and Falooda Shop.
Millions of Pakistanis live in Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and they would get requests from their employers to return with Sohan Halwa after a trip back home, Ali said.
“(Sohan Halwa) is very popular among Arabs in their countries,” he told Arab News.
Muhammad Farooq, 24, said he would often get the dessert as gifts for friends and relatives traveling to Saudi Arabia.
“Whenever a relative of ours goes to Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Hajj, we always send this as a gift to them,” Farooq told Arab News.
Sohan Halwa has grown increasingly popular as a gift item and is enjoyed throughout the year, but even more so during winter.
“All things that are useful and beneficial for your health are found in this halwa,” Rashid Qazi, a 42-year-old customer at one of the shops, told Arab News.
“It is made here with particular care and preparation, and is very popular around the world as well,” Qazi said. “It is a gift of Multan.”