Explorers and travellers from all across the globe who have visited Agra will point you to the amazing Taj Mahal and the beauty of it. They will talk about its pure beauty on a full moon night. They will tell you about the amazing, romantic and fascinating history behind the Taj Mahal. But food explorers will talk about Agra very differently. They will focus mostly on Petha which is another icon of the city.
Petha is a soft, translucent candy made from winter melons (or ash gourd). Locals would also tell you that this is the purest form of sweets, just fruit, sugar syrup and water. Historical records show that some of the earliest instances of petha were found in the royal kitchens during the reign of Shah Jahan.
Legend has it that petha is as old as the Taj Mahal—in fact, it’s said to have been invented during the construction of the Taj Mahal in the Mughal Empire. The 21,000 workers who were building this monument were bored of consuming the same meal everyday, which mostly consisted of dal and roti. Hearing their plea, Emperor Shah Jahan shared this concern with master architect Ustad Isa Effendi, who requested Pir Naqshbandi Sahib for a solution to the Emperor’s worries. It is believed that Pir had a dream where he learned the recipe from the Almighty. He then went ahead and taught his team of 500 cooks how to make petha and it was sent to the workers.
What is Panchhi Petha
The most famous petha brand in Agra is by Panchhi Petha (though nowadays there are so many fake outlets that it is difficult to distinguish which one is the original). The one original store I have come across is in Sadar Bazaar, Agra. This bazaar is close to the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, and serves different kinds of food items. If you are traveling in an auto, they always will take you via this famous and old market.
Of course the Mughals invented petha, but it was “Panchhi” which has made this delicious fruit candy famous in recent times. A gentleman with the name Seth Pancham Lal Goyal, fondly called Panchhi started this business around seventy years ago, at the age of 24 with just one store. The main head office and factory is in Noori Gate along with the first store of Panchhi Petha.
These days you can find almost 50 different flavours of petha—angoori, mango, chocolate, orange, pineapple, almond, coconut, cherry and lots more. My favourites are angoori, classic and kesri.
So the next time you are in Agra, ensure that while you admire the beauty and splendor of the Taj Mahal, you seek out the pure pleasure of this unique kind of sweet.