There are plenty of sweets shops in Little India, the area of northern Orange County brimming with Indian-Americans and businesses designed to meet their needs. Surati Farsan Mart dates to 1986, named for a coastal city in the Indian state of Gujarat. Surati is perhaps the best known of the neighborhood’s sweets shops, with good reason.
After deliberating, we settled on a selection of nine sweets. The top row featured one Kaju Pista Roll, a sweet tan and green swirl of cashew and pistachio; a yellow square of Mango Barfi, milk powder flavored with mango; and a square of Badam Meesur, a baked blend of almond powder, sugar and butter, topped with cardamom powder.
The middle row was highlighted by a special barfi that the counterman promised was bitter. “You wouldn’t like it.” I’ve heard this kind of proclamation before, mainly at Chinese restaurants, and without exception, I end up ordering the dish that’s supposedly hostile to American palates. This time, the gritty square was mild at first, then the bitterness crept in, and I still liked it. The counterman was less combative when we selected the Kaju Anjir Roll, a cashew tube filled with fig; the Kaju Anjir Barfi, the dense mix of cashew and fig; and the Badam Pista Roll, almond rolled around pistachios.
The bottom row sported Watermelon Barfi – pistachios and cashews rolled to look like a slice of watermelon, with raisins as “seeds”; and Bundi Ladoo, a pleasantly gritty ball of raisin, cardamom and saffron.
After liking the bitter barfi, the counterman warmed up to us, offering two handfuls of farsan, the namesake fried snacks that are alternately spicy and salty. Lilo Chevdo combined chana dal (lentils), fried potato strands, golden raisins, peanuts and spices.
Surati’s strictly vegetarian offerings extend to a savory menu of Indian snacks, including Sev Ussar – pea soup topped with crunchy noodles and tamarind chutney; Khaman – steamed chana squares topped with mustard seeds and sesame seeds; and Methi Tepla – pan-fried fenugreek flatbread. As tempting as those sound, it’s hard to imagine passing up the chance to eat meat. Still, the sweets were very good, and the complex taste of farsan, totally intriguing, so there will undoubtedly be another post-meal visit to Surati Farsan Mart.