Life is superbly sweet for second-generation British Indian Dipesh Patel. Earlier this year, he founded Delhish – an Oxford-based gourmet emporium specialising in mithai – those myriad, mouthwatering Indian sweet treats whose delights have been undersung for far too long.
With Diwali coming up and orders flying in, the former global management consultant is up to his hairline in halwa… but it didn’t stop him pausing for a cuppa chai and a chinwag.
So, Mr. Mithai, how did Delhish come about?
I was working for a global management consultancy firm and, in an attempt to share our culture, I took Indian sweets into work. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive, and the sweets were gobbled up before I even had a chance to have one myself. Most people had never encountered them.
Then I introduced my girlfriend Rosie’s family to mithai upon meeting them for the first time. I was astonished that, although they’re based in the midlands, they hadn’t tried them before. I was getting asked, ‘Where can I buy these?’; ‘How are they made?’; and ‘Can you get us some more??’.
This was the lightbulb moment. I thought, ‘I am going to start an online Indian sweet shop, making these delicious creations accessible to Britain through the click of a mouse’. I wanted to aim it not only at existing mithai fans but also people who had never tried them. I know all too well that it can be daunting going into an Indian sweet centre picking and choosing if you are not familiar with the varieties.
Five months later, I quit work – and here I am, a provider of Indian sweets nationwide!
Were you always a sweet-tooth?
I have had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember, My dentist records would provide testament to this.
Earliest memories of mithai?
At the age of ten, my mum gave me some to take into school for my teacher. I remember because my friends teased me for being a teacher’s pet. Apart from that, family celebrations always involved copious quantities of mithai, resulting in hyperactive children and sticky fingers. Jalebi was my favorite when I was a youngster!
Why do you think Indian sweets are so maligned and misunderstood?
If you go to your average Indian restaurant, you might see gulab jamun on the menu if you’re lucky; but that is usually the extent of ‘mithai’. Other options are generally bought-in frozen dessert or those standard tacky ice creams served in a coconut shell or mango skin. I think this one of the key reasons why not many people are familiar with Indian sweets on the whole.
Compare some common mithai to Western confections…
We actually have a recent blog post that compares our range of Indian sweets to familiar Western treats – check it out here.
Which sweets would you give as gifts for different occasions?
I think it’s quite personal. Everyone has their favorites, so I gift to suit the person. For the August sibling celebration, Rakshabandhan, I always get my sister chocolate burfi as she is a total chocoholic. But for engagements, weddings, and births, I usually stick to a mixed burfi box as it’s the most well-known and best-loved. Diwali, meanwhile, is a time of year when we have everything – it’s the perfect excuse!
Top 10 mithai?
- Kaju katli
- Kaju pista roll
- Gulab jamun
- Anjeer burfi
- Pista burfi
- Habshi halwa
- Kesar penda
- Coconut burfi
What do you eat when you fancy something savoury?
I love to munch on our incredible ‘Delhish Mix’. It’s our take on chevdo; sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time. It’s got everything in it! Then, when my mouth is on fire, there is nothing better than a piece of burfi to cool it down.
Do you adjust traditional recipes to better suit Western palates?
No. We believe that mithai should be enjoyed as per tradition – so much so that our head mithai chef is an esteemed mithaiwalla in India. The expertise has been passed down through three generations of his family, spanning over half a century in the profession.
Which celebrity would you most like to try your mithai?
Gordon Ramsay, because I know he would say that it’s ‘F****** DELICIOUS!’
Delicious pipeline plans for Delhish?
My plan is to open our first store after a year trading, in Oxford because it’s my home and is a place where mithai can be enjoyed by vast numbers of international students and locals alike. It’s not a place where people are afraid to try new things; we have all sorts of food vendors from Ethiopian to Goan here.
We’re also keen to travel the UK for food fairs and markets. We’ve been doing the Oxford food market in Gloucester Green for the last two months weeks to test the waters – and, thankfully, we have sold out of everything every time!
- For more information on Delhish’s range and to order, click here
- For more on mithai, click here
- For a review of Devnaa’s Indian Desserts cookbook, click here
- For great Diwali gift ideas including Delhish’s mithai, click here