Exploring the Romance of Bengali Sweets with J. Haldar

Haldar, J.1921. Bengal Sweets. Calcutta: Chuckervertty, Chatterjee &Co. Ltd.

Anybody interested in food history in general and sweet history in particular would know  about Bipradas Mukhodhyay’s work Mistanna Pak ( a two-volume set on sweets in Bengali ).  I don’t know if this work has been translated.  The first edition of Mistanna Pak was published in 1301 (1904) and 1311 (1914). Another interesting book that appeared in a span of  seven years was Mrs J. Haldar’s book Bengal Sweets.  I chanced upon this book while browsing through National Library catalogue in Kolkata. This book was published by Chuckervertty, Chatterjee &Co. Ltd.  The colonial past of the city and the library is reflected in the faded blue stamp of the Imperial library between the crisp yellow pages. The second edition of the book appeared in 1926.

Who is Mrs J. Haldar? In the preface to the first edition, she mentions that “the genesis of this little book can be traced to the “Notes and Queries” column of the Sunday editions of The Statesman” where she “contributed from time to time in response to the queries from all over India”. She thanks in particular the Anglo-Indian and European readers of her column who provided her with constant encouragement to put together the first edition. In the preface to the second edition, Mrs. Haldar is overwhelmed by the success of the first edition and mentions that “the book  made its way not only to different parts of India but also to the United Kingdom”. She further writes, “Indeed I feel legitimate pride to learn that Rasogolla has been successfully prepared in far-off England with the help of this book and that Europeans stationed in this country have greatly enjoyed sandesh, themselves making the same”. In the preface to the second edition, she calls upon the readers to get back to her regarding ambiguity of the method of preparation or difficulty in comprehension. Such ambiguities are part of the recipe books churned out and may be in one of the subsequent post I will write about how to deal with such ambiguous recipes from Julian Barnes book The Pedant in the kitchen.

The book is divided into various sections. Two sections that are my personal favourite are “ The Romance of Bengali Sweets” and  “Operations”. This book begins with an introduction to the role and significance of sweets in the everyday life of Bengal. In a fascinating chapter called “The Romance of Bengali sweets” she discusses in detail the metaphorical use of sweets in Bengali literature to its use and consumption across rituals and everyday life.  She writes “Sweets have also been accepted as an emblem of hospitality by every stratum of society in every part of Bengal” (pp 2). She writes that a glass of water in the remotest and poorest households would be accompanied by jaggery or sugar candy and the wealth and  prestige of  an aristocratic household  depends on the number of days the bhiyen is functional during festive occasions . She then moves on to discuss “The Confectionery of Bengal” where she gives a sweet tour of undivided pre-partitioned Bengal. She says, “Dacca is generally famed for Mithais of distinction and novelty; Burdwan for Sitabhog and Mihidana; Maldah for Khaja; Janai for Monohora; Natore for Kanchagolla; Murshidabad for Pantoah and Rasogolla;  Krishnanagore for Sarpuriya and Sarbhaja;Muragachha for Chhanar Jilapi and so on” (Pp 6).

For Mrs Haldar, there are two categories of sweets; 1) Mithai and 2) Monda. The classifaction is based on milk and non-milk products. This classification comes as a departure from the previous classification of sweets which were primarily from three intermediate bases: a) flour, b) milk ( curdled milk pressed into chhana) and c) kheer (thickened milk). According to Haldar, Mithais are prepared from flour, pulse and Monda is prepared from milk. Though she does not discuss in detail the wooden, clay or stone moulds used in households or shops to give shape to sweets, she mentions that sweets in Bengal can be of any shape and size. After her discussion on classification of confectionery in Bengal she moves to a detailed discussion of pots and pans which clearly sets this recipe book different from former books. In Bipradas Mukhopadhyay’s book there is a section on “pak-patra”1 (meaning utensils for preparing the pak) but Mrs J. Haldar’s attention to the details of pots, pans and ladles require a special mention. For an user-friendly understanding, she divides the utensils into four categories. They are :- 1) pans 2) ladles 3) accessories 4) serving appliances 5) miscellaneous. While for household cooking various kinds of pans and accessories have now replaced some of them, still  no sweat shops would be complete without a good pata –  “ a wooden plank 3 ft long, 9 inches broad and 1 inch thick used as pastry board for rolling out dough on greased surface” (pp 10) or a taru – “ a wooden paddle with a broad thick blade” (ibid). In the next section she moved to discussing the ingredients. She not only lists the ingredients and their English equivalent but also the base of the ingredients and one such example is safeda or rice flour. Though rice flour can be prepared from any kind of rice, for safeda, a special variety of sunned rice called Kamini which has a nice fragrance is used. In the next section called Operations, Mrs Haldar guides a novice and an expert through techniques that are absolutely crucial in sweets. She calls it “Operations” and she begins with the ways to treat flour. One of the techniques that Bengali households working with maida will strongly recommend is “mayan deoa”. Mrs Haldar takes a novice cook through the technique of mayan deoa shortening. Apart from shortening she discusses kneading, forming, rolling out and shaping of sweets before moving on to discuss how to make pulp, paste and batter. This section is particularly useful and should be referred to particularly for some practical tips on preparing the batter of a certain consistency. Consistency of a batter is particularly crucial in coating and frying. While recipe books are generous in listing the ingredients to prepare the batter; at times the consistency is left unexplained while the pedant is left wondering why her/his food is not crispy  as the food in the photo. The details of such techniques makes this book an interesting read and such tips are particularly useful in preparing non-sweet dishes as well. In the next section, she takes us through the methods of cooking, lists the various processes and explains them in detail. And the final rule that this age old recipe book tells us like no other book…

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(Halder 1926: 25)

In the next section on Milk products, before moving on to discussing the various ways in which milk should be treated to prepare Chhana, Kheer and other intermediate bases she discusses the quality of milk and ways to ascertain it. One of the recipes she beautifully explains is sar- how to acquire that crisp layer of cream2. After this she moves on to discuss how to use sugar and prepare sugar syrup. Sugar Syrup is an important step in sweet making. Each sweet requires a different consistency, thickness and texture and some tips from this section for household preparation of the same is useful. Finally comes the prized section of recipes where she first lists recipes prepared from Flour, followed by milk primarily chhana.

But the best is her innovation Bengal Pudding prepared from a combination of chhana, khoa, sugar, egg, almonds, pistachios, almonds, raisin and rose-water. I had made a version of this when I had a sweet craving in the middle of the night last year. I loved the idea of combining chhana and eggs. I gave my own twist to this recipe. I prepared chhana from 500 ml Double Tonned Milk available in Mother Dairy Outlets. For those in Bengal please buy the chhana from the sweetshops. I squeezed the water and left it to cool and rest because I had plans of making chhanar dalna ( channa fritters cooked in a light gravy of cumin seed paste and ginger). I used this chhana that was resting in my fridge and kneaded it gently in circular motion with sugar till it mixed well. Took a lot of time but it was a pleasure to see the granules mix with the chhana grains. Try using castor sugar and let me know if it works. I skipped khoa ! I used 4 egg yolks. A fork was all that I had  to beat the egg yolks till it was light and frothy . Can’t recall the time but my hand ached and I wondered why I was doing all of this when I am supposed to sleep. Talk about Bengali sweet tooth.  I added this mix to the chhana mix and folded in gently. I cheated and added two drops of vanilla because I did not have almonds or pistachios. Finally I transferred this mix  to an aluminium bowl (pre-greased with Jharna Ghee). It was time to wrestle with the steaming process. I thought of trying out my mother’s pressure cooker technique but I thought giving the good old technique of steaming a shot. I took my non-stick kadai and rested it on the burner and added boiling water and placed the aluminium pan with a lid and placed the good old iron tongs that I had picked up from the mother’s prized possessions. I paced up and down for 15 min to take the lid off and enjoyed a slice of mid night version of Bengal Pudding.  The pudding tasted nice. It could have tasted much better. Next day I added some chocolate syrup and served to few unexpected guests and it echoed the same feeling that Mrs Haldar re-iterated in 1926.

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And on that sweet note I take leave and will wait for your responses on sweets and more.. Till then indulge, cook and have fun!

Notes

1Pak is the Bengali word for condensing by heat. Across sweet industry in Bengal cooking  the mix from which sandesh and various sweets are folded and or moulded is called pak.

2 See my earlier post onhttps://itiriti.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/invisible-hands-behind-sweet-industry-what-does-it-take-to-prepare-sar/

P.S. May be this book was the first recipe book of Bengali sweets penned in English as well.

©itiriti

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Feasting during Durga Puja III

Today is Navami- practically the last day of the Puja. As a child I dreaded this day and to compensate for the end to the four days of fun and frolic I used to keep aside the best of the five dresses for the pandal hopping. Cut to 2012. One had heard that Chittaranjan Park (popularly known as C.R. Park) the Bengali neighbourhood puts on its festive colours during Durga Puja and I thought it would not be like Kolkata in terms of the crowd,the endless queues. Well, I was wrong.

If you are wondering that pandal hopping is an easy exercise in CR Park let me give you a word of caution. If you hate traffic, avoid travelling near 5km radius of C.R. Park. You might have to walk down. Its as simple as that. All the entry points to C.R. Park are barred and only vehicles with passes are allowed to enter and exit. Basically, you need to brave the traffic regulations around Chittaranjan Park (C.R.Park) – the Bengali neighbourhood of Delhi to see how festivities grip this otherwise quite neighbourhood in Delhi. The strings of bulbs hang from the trees welcoming the devotees and leading the way to the theme based pandal. As you enter, each of the pandals you will be led to three distinct spaces- first, designated to Goddess Durga, second to the food court and third to the cultural programmes that are held from Saptami to Navami.

The food courts of the pandals have all the known names in the business giving food stalls to make most of the business. B-Block Puja Pandal Food court had food stalls by Karims to Yo China. Beyond that the famous egg rolls, chicken rolls and Fish Fry were all there. The Puja Pandal adjacent to GK II Gurudwara also had an interesting mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian affair in their food court. Shiv Mandir Puja ground saw some interesting stalls of Phuchka, Ghugni and Biryani. The most interesting part about the food and festivities during Durga Puja is also how people occupy the streets and pavements for food stalls. For instance, the otherwise busy Kalibari Mandir Marg near Connaught Place which wears a busy traffic during weekdays has made way for a string of food stalls selling Ghugni, Jhal Muri ( infact one of the stalls claimed famous Jhal Muri from Burdwan), Mughlai Parantha, Rolls with various fillings like egg, chicken and mutton, Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken, tandoor items and of course Biryani.

The by lanes of CR Park have been taken over by people selling Ghugni, Kachori Alur Dam and even Masala Papad and various fries. The neighbourhood is buzzing with people making their way out from the pandals and the faint screeching noise of the traffic signalling how the life changes during festivities. As I struggle my way through the by lanes to reach Market No 1 to take my friends on a guided tour of the pandals I receive a call, “ We are stuck in traffic. It does not seem to move”. I wait patiently hanging around the magazine stall, flipping through all the Puja Barshiki (special editions that are published during Puja), make a wish list of all the new songs that I must try to listen to on youtube ( songs/ music albums are also released during this time) and of course collect a menu from all the food stalls. I begin my evening food trail with a plate of Phuchka popularly known as Panipuri in Delhi. In Bengal we use tamarind water flavoured with Gandhoraaj Lebu and the potato is mashed and mixed with chana, masala and tamarind pulp. The phucka prepared from Atta is peculiar to Bengal as well. As I wait for my friends to arrive I also head towards Kamala Sweets to help myself with a sweet dish- Chhanar Jilipi. Around 8pm my friends arrive and we head straight to Annapurna Hotel which has closed its air conditioned outlets (Shop no 142 and 143) and laid out chairs and tables in the open space of Market No 1. We decide to head straight for “fish” y meal thalis of Pabda, Hilsa and Rui. The Hilsa Curry was the perfect way to end a Navami Dinner- a day when we are allowed to have non vegetarian food and most households cook Panthar Jhol ( Mutton). The Hilsa Curry was spot on. As one my uncles would say, “ Maa Annapurna ( also the Goddess of Rice in other words, provider of food has blessed this place… there is magic and it is because of Annapurna’s blessing..”. I left the place and might go back again to have a Hilsa thali all for Rs 180/-

Ilish…

Time to get some rest and get ready for Bijoya Dashami…

© itiriti

Monohora- a tale of preservation technique

Each sweet biography in Bengal is laced with fascinating tales and Monohora- a sweet invented by artisan/s from Janai a village tucked away in Hooghly district of West Bengal is no exception. Monohora which literally in Bengali means one who steals the heart till date continues to be a favourite among sweet lovers. Unlike other sweetmeats, the genesis of this fascinating sweet remains unknown still one of the legends associated with Monohora biography is that one of the Moiras ( a caste group associated with sweetmeat business; nowadays it is referred to confectioners) from Moira para (neighbourhood of the Moiras) was entrusted by the then zamindar to prepare a sweetmeat. The zamindar (head of the village) left for some work and returned behind his scheduled arrival. The Moira was worried that the sandesh would go bad. He coated a lump of Sandesh in a  thick sugar syrup so that the sandesh would not go bad. When the zamindar returned, he tasted the sweet and remarked that the sweet has stolen his heart and hence the name Monohora ( in Bengali it literally implies “je monk e horon korechche”- one who has stolen my heart).

Stage 1 : Sandesh

In my several visits to Janai I have heard senior artisans and residents of the area recounting me this fascinating tale over Monohara- a sweet Janai is very proud of. Usually like all sweet shops across Bengal the chchana ( the cottage cheese) is mixed with sugar in a huge wok (kadai) with a wooden ladle ( tadu). Since there is a sugar coating, special care is taken so that the sandesh is not too sweet ( usually for 1 kg chchana 300gms of sugar is used). Some shops go tha extra mile to add cardamom, pistachio to the mix. The sugar syrup is prepared with due care. It is slightly thick in consistency and once it cools the round lumps of sandesh are dipped in the sugar syrup and allowed to rest for two hours. Your Monohora is ready to serve.

Stage 2: Sugar Syrup ( Ras) for Monohora

Monohora is priced betwee Rs 3-10 across shops in Janai Bazaar which is a 10 minute distance from Janai Station ( if you want to reach Janai from Bardhaman via Cord line). So in case you are free this weekend plan a gateway from the hustle bustle of Kolkata head to Janai for a sweet trail. Please do not request shopkeepers to give you plastic bags as they have been banned.

Stage 3: Sandesh is coated in sugar syrup

Last stage : Raisins are added and allowed to cool for 2-3 hours

Two shops I would hugely recommend around the Janai bazaar are Kamal Moira’s sweet shop (a shop without name plate) and opens around 11.30am. You can land there by 3pm for a fresh serving of Monohora. In case you are pressed for time you can head to Maa Kali Mistanna Bhandar as well. The shop is run by Tarun Das and his sons Pradip Das and Dilip Das. They sell another hugely popular sweetmeat Boro Bonde ( it is a fried sweetmeat and tastes like the usual bonde but slightly bigger size).

Next time when you complain of sugar coating of Monohora remember to take the coating off and eat it. Monohora is truly the sweet that marks the first sign of preservation of sweets before refrigeration methods entered the confectionery industry.

" you have to take off the coating to have a real taste of Monohora"- artisan

©itiriti

(In)visible hands behind sweet industry – What does it take to prepare Sar?

The invisible hands that toil day and night to keep the sweet industry of Bengal often go unnoticed. One such skill that has gone undocumented is the art of preparing Sar. One of the artisans in fact lamented to her family member, ‘This work requires skill of eyes and fingers but you will always remain in the backyard. No one is ever going to recognise this craft, this skill’.

Sar is one of the key ingredients of Sarbhaja – a sweetmeat of Krishnanagar prepared from Sarpuriya Pak which constitutes of Kheer, cardamom, Sugar and saffron. Artisans in sweet shops prepares the pak (cooking process of sweetmeats across Bengal is called Pak). The slow method of cooking which produces a soft texture in sweets  is called norom pak and the method of cooking hat will give a harder texture is called kara pak. In case of Sarpuriya, what the artisans don’t know to prepare or in modern day terms what is outsourced is Sar. Sar is the Bengali word for cream that floats when full rich creamy milk is boiled. Till I went on my sweet trail to Krishnanagar I was not aware about the art of preparing Sar.  This cream is used to prepare Ghee (clarified butter) in many households across India. 

Sar

Krishnanagar is the birthplace of Sarbhaja and Sarpuriya two sweets where you need Sar. Currently approximately ten households in Krishnanagar prepare Sar. I was fascinated to see pairs of Sars piled up in the cupboard of Bijoy Moira a shop tucked away near to Judges Court T point.

Sar as used for preparing Sarpuriya( a popular sweetmeat from Krishnanagar)

I was alerted that Rabi Ghosh from Khottapara (name of the neighbourhood) is their Sar supplier. If I wanted to take a look at how Sar is prepared I should visit their home.  Though I felt slightly hesitant to enter somebody’s household without prior appointment I decided to take a chance last afternoon. Around 1.30 after finishing my lunch I boarded a rickshaw to Khottapara to reach Robi Ghosh’s house.  Baby Ghosh has been involved in the art of preparing Sar ( lifting the cream of the milk to form a stiff base. She learned the art of preparing Sar from her father-in-law.

Baby Ghosh preparing Sar

Robi Ghosh proudly tells me “very few Ghosh* households are skilled in this trade”.  Interestingly, across Bengal people involved in milkman trade are referred as Goalas (Goala is one of the sub-castes specialised in milk related trade). Some sections of Goalas are skilled in this trade. Baby gets up around 5 am and waits for her husband Robi to collect milk from the nearby villages of Krishnanagar. Robi Ghosh tells me, “You need good quality milk. You cannot prepare Sar with adulterated milk”.  Usually by 12 noon Robi is back from the villages. Once the milk is collected Baby heats the milk and keeps it aside to cool down. She has a mud floored room for the preparing Sar. It is a small room with two clay ovens for heating of milk. Baby starts preparing Sar from 12.30. She has 15 kadais for preparing Sar. At one time she can prepare one Sar.  She takes small portions of cow dung cakes and distributes it evenly across 15 places. She places 15 Kadais and adds small portions of milk and keeps on stirring it for the first thirty minutes. She has to keep a keen eye and wait for the cream to settle. After that she lifts it carefully and spreads in on a wet cloth covered bamboo basket and allows it cool down for 2 hours before spreading on a wooden mat to cool down. The soft tender cream becomes a solid base and it becomes ready to use after 4 hours. Baby says, “It is easy to prepare sar during winter. In rainy season it becomes hot and humid and takes time”.  I leave her to finish her order of 80 Sars to be delivered across sweet shops in Krishnanagar. Each sar costs about Rs 13- 15 each depending on the quality. As I leave the house Robi Ghosh shows me the place where he has stored cow dung cakes and Baby quietly returns to the room to finish her orders.

*Commonly people in this area call Goala households as Ghosh households. Across Bengal people from both Goala Caste Group and Kayastha caste group share the surname Ghosh.

 

Biography of Langcha- Burdwan or Krishnanagar

The genesis of Langcha as we all know goes back to an artisan  in Burdwan ( a district in West Bengal) who used to make Pantua ( fried sweetmeat made of flour and chchana dipped in sugar syrup) of huge sizes.  Langcha a sweet meat – in popular parlance was created by the erstwhile artisans of Shaktigarh in Burdwan. How did Langcha Dutta ( the artisan credited with this invention ) land in Burdwan? The noted novelist Narayan Sanyal in his historical novel “Rupamanjari” actually tells us a different story. Goutam Dhoni a noted journalist and correspondent of “Ekdin” a Bengali Daily tells me this fascinating tale in his house over a plate of Nikhuti ( a sweet famous in Krishnanagar).  In his latest article in Nadia Darpan( a local Bengali Daily) Dhoni brings to our attention how Langcha has travelled from Krishananagar ( a town in Nadia District) to Burdwan .

Drawing from Narayan Sanyal’s novel Rupamanjari Goutam Dhoni(2011) argues that the genesis of “Langcha” actually goes back to the matrimony alliance between the two seats of power in two different parts of present day West Bengal. A matrimony alliance between the royal households of Krishnanagar and Burdwan changed the genesis of “Langcha”. For those unfamiliar with Langcha; it is a fried oval shaped sweetmeat fried and dipped in sugar syrup. It is made from Chchana( cottage cheese- an ingredient common to most of the sweets in Bengal). The story goes that a girl from the then Krishnanagar royal household was married to a son from Burdwan royal household. When she became pregnant she lost her appetite and refused to eat any food. During this time she expressed a desire to eat “langcha” – a sweetmeat that artisans from her maternal home used to prepare.

The then ruler of Krishnanagar made arrangements to find out who prepared “Langcha” but none of the Modaks/ Moiras( The Bengali confectioner; a caste group involved in preparation of sweets) in Krishnanagar seemed to be aware of Langcha. Apparently even the lady did not remember the name of the sweet. She had mentioned “Langcha” because the artisan who used to prepare this specific sweetmeat used to limp and walk ( in Bengali Langchano means to limp). Then the artisan was summoned to the Krishnagar court and was sent off to Burdwan. He was lured with lands to settle in Burdwan so that he could prepare delicacies for the royalty. Currently Shaktigarh, Burdwan district of Bengal is credited with huge Langchas but the shops in Krishnanagar take a special pride in how “Langcha” has travelled from Krishnanagar to Burdwan.

©itiriti

Sweet-tooth

For a long time I have been browsing the bookstores in Kolkata for a recipe book on sweets. On a self –reflexive note I remember with pleasure the sweet delicacies that were prepared post Durga Puja celebrations, i.e., the Bijoya Dashami. Bijoya Dashami marks the last day of Durga Puja when the idols are immersed in the Ganges which is followed by exchange of sweets.

Sitting in the cubicle of library I remember with fondness the smell of molasses and grated coconut which my mother cooked with care for those perfect “nadus” which were to be offered to the Goddess during the Puja which would then be offered to the guests who came to commemorate Bijoya Dashami. The celebrations of Bijoya Dashami has now moved beyond the confines of kitchen and has hit the shopfloor of sweet shops hence the homemade delicacies like Nimki, Elojhelo and Nadu are stacked in piles in various sweetshops to be sold to celebrate Bijoya Dashami.

Having spent a considerable time in an industrial township I had the pleasure of being treated to many Bijoya Dashami delicacies. There was a sheer joy in being invited to the households post play -time and being offered mutton ghugni, and sweets. Nimki, was a common item in the households and often kids preferred wearing frocks/ pants with pockets to stock them for the snack time post supper. And of course there were sweets of all shapes and sizes. To my delight, my mother thought that the best way to pass on some of these sweet treasures by gifting me a book “Mistikatha” a collection of sweet recipes by Jayasree Mukhoadhyay. Though I have not tried any recipes as of now but it will surely help me to put together a Bijoya Dashami get-together and a Poush Parbon platter without any glitches.

Mukhopadhyay, J. 2010. Mishtimukh. Kolkata: Ananda Publishers Private Limited

The recipe book is divided into three sections. In Section I, Jayasree Mukhopadhyay documents “Dokane Toire Misthi” (Sweets prepared in shops). In this section she moves beyond rosogolla and shares with her readers recipes of Kanchagolla (a round shaped sandesh made of slow cooked chchana), Misti Doi (Sweet Curd) etc. The second section is dedicated to home-made sweets. This section is particularly interesting as it will introduce the novice cooks like us to sweet delicacies which could be prepared for the Bijoya Dashami evening and for a special get together to celebrate Poush Parbon(Harvest Festival) in December. For that perfect Bijoya Dashami evening you could stack up some Misti kucho Gaja, Elojhelo, Jibe gaja and Bhaja Malpua. And for that once in a while sweet cravings post dinner you can quickly prepare some Malpua out of sweet potato or even whisk away some Rasbara. Jayasree Mukhopadhyay successfully introduces to us a variety of Pithe ( stuffed steamed sweet cakes made of rice flour) like Ranga Alur Bhaja Pithe ( Fried Sweet cake made from Sweet Potato), Bhapa Pithe( Steamed Rice Cake), Raspuli( Rice Cake dipped in sugar syrup), etc. For all those who struggle with Palm based sweets usually offered during Janmashtami she guides us through sweet delicacies like Talksheer, Taler Bara, Taler Luchi, Tal Diye Malpua, etc. In the last section of the book she presents sweet recipes from other parts of the country.

So in case you are nervous about the Bijoya Dashami and Poush Parbon celebration get hold of the book to take you through the sweet moments. Happy cooking!

Sweet biographies of Bengal

The gastronomic culture of Bengal is well known for its affinity towards sweets; particularly “rosogolla” and “sandesh”. Rosogolla is a round shaped sweet made out of Chhana (cottage cheese) and dipped in sugar syrup. Sandesh on the other is a sweet made of kneaded chchana cooked with sugar/ jaggery and made into diffferent moulds.

While there are debates as to who invented Rosogolla it was the enterprising family of Nobin Chandra Das and his successors primarily K.C.Das and Sharadacharan Das who were instrumental in putting the Rosogolla on the global map. Bengalis have a fettish for Chhana based sweets. What is Chhana?  Chhana is an important base for a variety of sweets. It is obtained by acid coagulation of hot milk and draining out the whey.

Nobin Das popularly known as Nobin Moira is known for his invention of Sponge Rosogolla. Langcha (a popular sweetmeat) in fact is named after Langcha Dutta who was a karigar from Kalna. He was efficient in preparing Pantua (Another Fried sweet made of Chhana and dipped in Sugar syrup) of huge sizes. Since he used to limp and walk hence the name Langcha (In Bengali Langchano means to limp). Surjya Modak from Chandannagore, Hooghly invented ‘Jalbhara Talsans Sandesh’ (1818). Bhimchandra Nag and Nakur Nandy from Hooghly district created revolution in Sandesh from their respective shops in Kolkata.

My first field work was in a sweet shop in Chandernagore/ Chandannagore by the name Jalbhara Surjya Modak, descendants of the legendary Moira/ Modak (confectioners in Bengal are known as Modaks/ Moiras). Chandernagore is a former French colony ( For details on Chandernagore visit the link http://www.chandannagar.com/htmlfiles/chanhistory.htm). Unlike the rest of India, certain towns on the banks of the Hooghly river had  Dutch and Portuguese settlements. For instance, Chinsurah a town close to Chandernagore was a former Dutch settlement and Bandel, few kms away from Chinsurah was a Portuguese settlement. These settlements have played a key role in the social history of sweetmeat in Bengal. While the earliest documentation on sweetmeats record “kheer” as the primary ingredient of sweetmeats with the advent of Dutch and Portuguese according to some scholars and traditions “chhana” became an important component of Bengali sweets.

For instance, the web portal (link given below) of Jalbhara Surjya Modak credits the Dutch cook of Bandel Church ( a church where Portuguese sailors had stayed for a long time) for introducing the Moiras of Hooghly to Chhana.

(http://www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com/profile.html)

Jalbhara Surjya Modak is currently owned and run by Saibal Kumar Modak, descendant of the famous Surjya Moira or Surjya Modak who is known for the invention of Jalbhara Sandesh (a Sandesh with sugar syrup filling). In April 2010 when I met Surjya Modak to discuss and plan my work he offered me Jalbhara Sandesh. As I finish eating the sweet he asks me whether or not I was aware about the history of the Jalbhara and if I had savoured their sweets before. I politely told him I knew that unlike the Jalbhara in Kolkata, I am aware that if one is not careful with Chandernagore Jalbhara then one might end up spilling the water.  Jabhara Sandesh as it is popularly known now was invented on the occasion of Jamaishasthi( a feast prevalent among Hindus in Bengal in honour of son-in- law)

In 1818, on the occasion of Jamaishashti, the Bandopadhyay family of Telenipara, Chandernagore sent a request to Surjya Moira that they wanted us to prepare a sweet which will surprise their son-in-law. The first step was creation of a Talshansh sandesh (a sandesh/ sweet shaped like the kernel of a palm). The dice for this Talshansh Sandesh was invented by Surjya Modak’s grandson, Lalit Mohan Modak who was an experienced hand. In those times Siddheswar Modak(Lalit Mohan Modak’s father) used to run the shop. The dice (shaped like kernel of a palm) was filled with Kara-Pak (slightly harder vesion of cooked chchana) sandesh to which rose-water flavoured sugar syrup was added. In those days sugar syrup was made of dolo chini(a variety of locally produced sugar). This sweet was sent to the Gangopadhyay family. When the son- in- law was offered this sweet, the moment he bit into it the water spilled over this clothes. Following this incident Jalbhara Sandesh became popular. Then orders came on pouring in and Surjya Modak became famous for introducing Jalbhara. Jalbhara Talshansh Sandesh was its real name. Now it is popularly known as Jalbhara Sandesh. Our Jalbhara Sandesh is unique as the “water” does not dry up”. In my several interviews with Saibal Kumar Modak we have discussed why Surjya Kumar Modak is credited with the invention of Jalbhara considering his grandson Lalit Mohan Modak had prepared the dice. Again he alluded to the fact that everyone in the area knew the product was available at Surjyi Moira’s shop.  So next time you want to try out give into your sweet temptations visit Jalbhara Surjya Modak for Jalbhara Sandesh, Motichur Pak. They even sell Mango filled Jalbhara. Since the shelf life of Bengali sweets is short put on your shoes and take a tour of this former French Colony and finish off with a visit to this legendary shop.

Address of the shop: 247, G.T.Road ( East) , Barasat , Chandernagore,Hooghly : 712136 West Bengal ( India ).Phone No : (033) 2683 5640

Other details regarding the shop is available on the following website

http://www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com

© itiriti

Please visit the following article on Surjya Modak

http://yummraj.com/2012/11/02/surjya-kumar-modak-chandannagore-west-bengal/.