Jalebi is the name for deep-fried treats, a little bit similar to funnel cakes, but smaller and different in flavor. These treats are made primarily in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Depending on the region you are visiting, Jalebi can be called by its Persian name, zoolbia or zoolbiah. Another name for the treat is jaangiri, and the principle difference here is that jaangiri is considered a type of jalebi that is made with slightly different ingredients and served with different sauces.
Typical jalebi is made with a type of wheat flour called maida flour. This is fine ground flour which can be substituted with pastry flour in the US. Saffron is key to preparing jalebi to get the yellow or orange color of each treat. Yogurt, water, and baking powder are the other primary ingredients for the batter, which when combined is allowed to sit for a few hours in order to ferment slightly. The batter is then piped in concentric circles into hot oil to produce a crispy and slightly chewy result.
For standard jalebi, after the treats have been removed from the oil, or sometimes ghee, they are soaked in rose water flavored sugar syrup. The soaking process should still leave the cakes a little bit crunchy. Oversoaking can make them soggy, and some chefs recommend just spooning a bit of the sugar syrup over the fried jalebis to get the rose water taste, while not minimizing the crunchy exterior texture. Piping the batter in circles can be something of a learning curve too, and it may take a few tries before you get this completely right.
Cooks can vary spices in the dipping or soaking sauce. In addition to rosewater, some cooks add cardamom and cloves, or even edible camphor. This gives each treat a complex flavor and texture: chew and crunch, heat and sweet spice, and the delicacy of rose flavor.
Jalebis are common at various celebrations like weddings and national holidays. In the countries where they are made, maida flour isn’t considered very healthy, so the treat is generally saved for special occasions. Jaangiri is also a traditional wedding food. Most of the ingredients are similar except the flour, which is called urad flour, and is usually made from ground white lentils. Jaangiri are soaked in sugar syrup but may be served with yogurt, often called curd in recipes, for dipping.
Jaangiri has a different shape. Instead of being piped in concentric circles, cooks pipe these into round flower shapes, similar to writing a series of cursive lower case Ls and connecting them all together in a circular form. This result is very pretty, but again it takes a little learning to create these quickly enough so that the whole treat cooks at the same time.