Friday, January 20, 2006
Many many years ago,Nirad Chaudhuri,in an article in The Statesman of Kolkata had declared that Kolkata sandesh was peerless and that savouring the best Simulia sandesh was like imbibing vintage champagne.How very true!
Last week when I was in Kolkata,I realised that it was the season for "notun guder mishti"(mishti made out of new jaggery). Promptly,I commissioned my guy to get me a reasonable quantity.I was shuttling between meetings and could not do a hands-on purchase.Before I left for Mumbai, the packet arrived and I kept it carefully in my briefcase.When I opened it in Mumbai and tasted one sandesh it was nothing short of heavenly. S who is not a great sandesh buff(she sticks to mishti doi) went gaga. And my cobrother(that is a term I learned in Bangaluru) who is visiting us for a few days almost swooned after consuming just one piece. Connosiuer's of sandesh may know that before sandesh became popular,kanchagolla was ruling the roost. Abanindranath Tagore sang its praise. Pantua,ledikeni and chumchum have now lost their popularity.There are other sweets like,sarpuria,sarbhaja and sar-er nadu .I think sar-er nadu is still avaibale in Shyambazar/Bowbazar.Of course the plethora of Benagali sweets that is available is mindboggling. Manohara,kshirkadamba,nikhuti and channar jilipi are also there prominently in the hierarchy.Interestingly,even China has started making Indian sweets for the fast growing Indian community .The food chain is based in Zhuai.
We lived in the 50s in Kolkata in the corner of Loudon Street and Moira Street.I learnt recently that chefs making these delicasies are called 'moiras'.Now I know how I picked up this weakness for sweets.During Makar Sankranti many Bengali families make special sweets called pithe.Something like a pancake.You have the ashkey pithe(melted palm jaggery),ranga aaloor pithe(sweet potato) and pati shapta the most popular of all.It is a flat pancake filled with khoa(reduced and solidified milk) and grated cocconut.
Apart from the above sweets another very popular item sold in Kolkata is the lal doi.It is sweetened curd(mishti doi) but red in colour.No visit to Kolkata is complete without returning with a handi of mishti doi.Though i would love to buy it from Shyambazar,logistics compel me to buy it from Gangurams.And I have never regretted that decision.During the last visit I bought it from Mishti on the way to the airport and I was very disappointed. No mistake this time around. It was spoton.The familiar salesman remarked "bhalo kore pack kare debo,aapni bombay niye jhacchen to"! And the familiar security guys at the airport smile when they see me with the mishti doi handa.Like Lord Chesterton and his ubiquitious umbrella.