If you are lucky then the Parsis would have let you in on the real secret of Lonavla. The place they all head for the moment they land there. Not the Bushy dam. Definitely not the million shops, with boards that scream out ‘Magganlal Chikkis’, on the main road at Lonavla… but a treasure trove called Cooper’s and its chocolate walnut fudge
You have to get off the main road and head to the Lonavla market which is beside the station to find Cooper’s. A market, which I am told, looks exactly the same as it did decades back. Lonavla, the rather ambitiously dubbed ‘hill station, next to Mumbai, has become more crowded over the years. The Maganlals have multiplied. Smokin Joes and Baskin Robins have entered Lonavla. There’s a Lonavla square now where Ronald McDonalds has set up base. Not stuff I remembered from my last trip to Lonavla.
Yet, if you do down a bit from the main road then you are at the original ‘market’ of Lonavla. A place still frozen in time with the local constabulary chasing off cars which try to park there.
Towards the beginning of the market, just ahead of the circle, is a tiny shop.
Cooper’s fudge and chikkis.
A shop that yesterday looked exactly the same as it did when I first went there over a decade back. Just as it did, I suspect, about seventy five odd years back when the late Hoshi Irani set up the shop.
This time I met Rashna Irani at the shop. Third generation owner of Cooper’s. Hoshi Iran’s granddaughter. She had a slightly melancholy look on her face as she doled out fudge to us and the number of Parsi customers who revved up on their motorbikes.
Her father, Homi Irani, son of the founder Rusi Irani, had just passed away a couple of days back. Cooper’s was shut for a few days and they had just opened for business again the day we landed there. Her father’s memory honoured and sweetened by the fudge the fans of Cooper’s so loved and had queued up for that evening.
It’s not just the appearance of the shop that has remained the same.
As I bit in to some fresh warm chocolate walnut fudge I was taken back to that day, a decade back, when I first tasted the fudge here. Sweet, chocolaty, walnutty, cuddly, lovable, huggable simple, uncomplicated, something you could spend hours with in a happy place…you have seen the look on Winnie the Pooh’s face with a pot of ‘hunny’? … Yes, that just about describes the look on the face of anyone with a box of Cooper’s Walnut fudge.
Rashna kindly allowed me to go inside the shop to take a look at a fresh pot of fudge. From what I gathered from her, the walnut fudge is made with a mix of crushed walnuts, cocoa powder, drinking chocolate, ghee, possibly milk and sugar…slow cooked…put into a vessel and then taken out and put into the paper boxes….which look the same as they did ten years back.
The consistency is amazing. Cooper’s might shut between 1- 3 pm everyday. And, after opening again, once stocks run out. Everything is sold fresh here after all. But for all its whimsicalness, the taste of the walnut fudge at Cooper’s yesterday was the same as it was ten years back…same as it was all the times in between when we stopped at Lonavla for office off-sites…trips during which colleagues I recommended it to became Cooper’s fudge loyalists just as I had once become.
Cooper’s makes chikkis too and other fudges, sweets, but I’d recommend the chocolate walnut fudge any day, A lesson I learnt from Kainaz, a Cooper’s walnut fudge loyalist from adolescence.
Cooper’s is not the only place that sells fudge at Lonavla. Every shop at Lonavla does. The fudge at Cooper’s is probably more expensive than those in the fancier shops.
Yet, if were to you ask me, then the chocolate walnut fudge at Cooper’s is THE single biggest reason to visit Lonavla.