They have some of the most delicious barfis and melt-in-your-mouth pedas in Mumbai and we definitely wanted some of it. So we got in touch with Mr. Nilesh Barfiwala,a third generation entrepreneur, to see if he would share the history behind the unforgettable flavours of their mithais!
“When my grandfather Shri RATANLAL BARFIWALA came to Mumbai from Surat in around 1918, he was looking for a job. He did odd jobs at a number of places. Bhuleshwar, as you know, is one of the oldest and most traditional places in Mumbai. My grandfather used to sit in this same shop every day. Back then, it was owned by someone else and he was not inclined to run it, so he sold whole business to my Grandfather in 1920 with all the assets and liabilities, for Rs.600!” (Which was very huge amount in those days)
“My grandfather was passionate about everything, whether big or small, and believed in hard work. He believed in doing everything under his personal supervision. He would buy the milk, the Mawa (milk solids) ,and prepare the mithai. He was also felicitated at many functions. Back then, there were around 10- 12 traditional shops in the vicinity. Now we can proudly say that we are the only one!”
“Of course when Mr. Ratanlal started his Barfi shop , he didn’t do it alone. “My grandfather started the business with his younger brothers Mr. Vasantlal and Mr. Kusumkant.”
“As of now, there are only two families in the business; Ratanlal and Kusumkant’s families. Ratanlal’s son Pravinbhai, my father, passed away in 1982, when I was only 21. Since then, I’ve been sitting and looking after the business along with Rajenbhai Barfiwala and Abhiraj Barfiwala, son and grandson of Kusumkant . His other son Bansibhai also used to look after the business but later he left.”
“During those days, we used to sell 1 kilo of mithai for Re. 1. In fact, it wasn’t even sold by kilo, it was measured in Ratal. One kilo is approximately two ratal.”
“Over 90 years, RATANLAL BHAGWANDAS BARFIWALA has carved a niche for itself. So why only traditional mithais and barfi? “At that time, it was a very lucrative and respectable business. Our name, in fact, comes from our profession. We only make mithai that is made from milk, mawa and dry fruits.”
“My grandfather chose this because, according to the Hindu mythology, we only offer foods to the Gods that can be consumed our fasting days. You can’t use gram flour, wheat, maida, etc. We’re still married to our traditions. We don’t use kerosene, LPG as our fuel medium. All our mithais are cooked in a tandoor with coal. Even our kadhais are cast iron and pure brass. We catered to a lot of different people. Even now, a lot of our old clients are with us! Like the TATA Group. When Reliance started their Patalganga plant in the late 80s, we were the first to supply Kaju katri to them!”
“Currently we have 6-7 varieties of barfis but the main ingredients are still the same. RATANLAL started with plain white mawa barfi with badam, pista and elichi on top and Pendas. It was later that we started innovating. We’ve added Tirangi barfi, chocolate, walnut and badam-pista. We also have 3-4 types of soft pedas, kopra pak, dudhi halva, kaju katri, anjeer katri and black currant jelly katri. Our kopra pak is world famous because we are the only ones who make it from fresh coconut.” No festival is complete without having Basundi or Shrikhand from Ratanlal! We make Special fresh Basundi and Shrikhand as per order.
“As a thumb rule, when making a barfi, it takes about 2-3 hours in the first round. The setting takes another 2-3 hours. After which it is ready to be sold. There are 2-3 items that need to set overnight like the Tirangi or the chocolate barfi.”
“You will be really surprised to know that we don’t have any refrigerators either. Make fresh, sell fresh. That’s our policy (one of the rarest shops that do this). We don’t have a display or pre packed boxes. It’s all completely traditional. Even our karigars are 3rd generation and they all come from Dapoli village in Ratnagiri. I used to play with the third generation kids and now they are working with me!”
When asked about the changing tastes of generations, he says, “We have a legacy of over 90 years. With new generations the tastes also change and everyone has to change with time, but by the grace of the God, we haven’t changed. Besides even fashion runs in cycles. I would however, like to put it differently. During Navratri, Garba is still famous after so many years (old and traditional) even after disco! And so, mithai is mithai.
Of course there are the sweet moments when you see the fruit of your labour.
“When you give our Tirangi barfi or Soft Pendas to 3 year old old or to a 70 year old they will be able to distinguish it from any other variant that’s out there. They will say “mane tirangi ane Penda toh ratanlal naj bhave ” (I relish tirangi and Pendas only from Ratanlal). That is one of the biggest credit to what we do. People coming from or leaving for overseas also ask for Tirangi barfi and Soft Penda from Ratanlal. The Soft Penda just melts in your mouth. They say, ‘we are dying to have your mithai!’”
“Thriving for over 90 years with only 13 – 14 products has been a monumental achievement for us! You will be surprised to know that we haven’t advertised our products as well in the commercial sense. All our advertising is through word-of mouth. And that’s because the product speaks for itself.”
And we whole heartedly agreed.
Having had our fill of his mouth-watering barfis, we bid Nilesh bhai farewell and stepped out with satisfied stomachs and smiles on our face.