Kaja: the Raja of All Sweets

HYDERABAD: Different regions of undivided Andhra have their own signature sweets. One of the most popular among them is the kaja from coastal belt of Rajahmundry and Konaseema. This is a variant of khaja, the layered pastry soaked in sugar syrup, which is in demand in northern as well as eastern India.

While khaja is supposed to be the favourite sweet of Lord Jagannath in Puri, the claim from Bihar is that the sweet originated there centuries ago and got its name from Gautam Buddha. However, in the Telugu states, there is no confusion that the kajas from Kakinada and Tapeshwaram are the best.

Kakinada Kaja,  also known as Gottam Kaja originated in this coastal town when Chittipedi Kotaiah from Guntur migrated there in 1891 and started a sweet shop making the dessert. Kotaiah Sweets is now a fledging business with branches in Kakinada and Rajahmundry.

The word gottam means stone, and the kaja looks like small cylindrical stones. Made with maida and ghee, the dough is made into small log shaped pieces with a little space inside, which is first fried and then dipped in sugar syrup. The result is a deliciously sweet, dry outside but filled with sugar syrup as you bite into it.

The   other version, called Tapeswaram Kaja originated from Tapeswaram, a small town in Konaseema. This is a perfectly layered pastry, which is fried and then soaked in sugar syrup. Again made with maida and ghee, the dough is rolled into a sheet in this preparation and then folded into a diamond shape. This is then cut into pieces before frying in ghee and dipping in sugar syrup. Unlike the gottam kaja, this version holds the sugar syrup in its layers rather than inside it.  The sweet is also known as Madatha Kaja, though as per connoisseurs, the latter is a slightly different version which is quite dry.

In Hyderabad, Madatha Kaja is available in select sweet shops.  G Pulla Reddy Sweets, one of the major sweet shops with multiple shops in the city is known for the quality of their Madatha Kaja. Almond House and Keshav Reddy Sweets are some other places selling these. Gottam Kaja, however, is less popular, few of the sweet shops told me that they prepare this sweet only on bulk prior orders. Vellanki Foods and Sampradaya Foods are two places where you can find all the variants – Tapeshwaram, Kakinada as well as Madatha. They have a smaller version known as Baby Kaja too. Sabyasachi is a food enthusiast and blogs at www.foodaholix.in

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