The Dharwad Peda is one of my favorites I discovered later in life, but its unique and I think what makes it also special is its unlikely to be available outside some parts of India.
Curiously, I had it first when I was a kid and didn't like it. But then I didn't pretty much like anything when I was a sickly skinny kid who could barely eat much food and was too tired most of the time.
Now the humble Peda is the most commonly available sweet at shops and its essentially prepared from condensed milk. While it sounds simple, its actually elaborate and a pain to prepare at home, and this makes it less special - yes, because its then prepared on an industrial scale. Nearly all of the Pedas are prepared in each city by a few renowned milkmen and they all taste the same. A lot of them are offered in devotion at temples and to keep costs low its just milk and sugar.
But a few of them go beyond and add flavoring or ingredients that make it special, and these are truly rare and one needs to be on the lookout. Otherwise I wouldn't recommend a Peda as a sweet to visitors and tourists - unless, its the Dharwad Peda.
The Dharwad Peda is unique as its made by a special technique which caramelises the milk and palm sugar/ jaggery combination by heating it and mixing it at the right temperature. It takes a special skill and is mainly done best in the Western belt across Karnataka-Maharashtra-Goa. Dharwad is a province in Karnataka famous for its music and rich culture.
On my recent road trips to Goa from Mangalore we stopped at one of the roadside hotels and were picking up local snacks and sweets and I picked up the Dharwad Peda, only to discover that this was sold across all of Karnataka by their state dairy Nandini and available at all milk booths.
And this possibly is a good illustration of why the Dharwad Peda is special. Nandini Dairy also produced a lot of the regular peda which is actually quite regular, tasteless and flavorless. they also make a Kesari peda which only contains more color. But their Dharwad peda which sadly they produce little of, is a knockout product.
Dharwad Peda is actually not very appetizing to look at and the dark color from caramelization is part of the reason. But one bite into it you are hooked. Getting the right flavor is important and thats one of the reasons its rarely replicated outside the region. The closest you can get is the caramelized flavor of palm sugar from the west bengal which they use in both their ice cream and the Joyonagerer Moa.
What makes this even more special is how rare good Dharwad Pedas are. Even at Nandini booths they are available only occasionally, so whenever I get to see them I buy a few packs which last me for a good week or so, when kept refrigerated.
But each bite is a celebration of the skills of the region in transforming and elevating the humble industrial peda into a magically lovely and tasty delight. Enjoy!!
PS: There is also the Mathura Peda which looks similar in appearance and preparation, but i have not tried it - someday!!