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

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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 Rituals

As Bengalis we love “Fish”. And Fish has also made its entry as a sweet. Well hold on to that cursor and google for fish shaped sweet and you are bound to come across the most common variety of sweets shaped like Fish as Tatwa items.

Tatwa is the gift exchange ceremony prevalent among Bengali Hindus. It is a  ritual of gift exchange on the occasion of marriage. There are primarily two sets of tatwa exchanges. The groom’s family sends the “Gaye- Haludertatwa marking the bathing of bride and groom is their respective native places where the groom’s family sends across Turmeric paste and mustard oil to the bride’s family. Along with this “Gaye- Haluder” Tatwa arrives where the Bride’s family is presented with gifts and sweets.

Sweets occupy an important component of Tatwa exchanges and the artisans toil day and night for these special “Tatwa” Orders.  Infact some of the web portals of the sweet shops have a separate section for “Tatwa” which indicates the market that Tatwa orders generate in the sweet market. Tatwa in contemporary weddings is more than gift- it is a leisure commodity so the “tatwa” products reflect the taste of the family, the status of family. In a recent visit to a family friend’s place, an elderly member commented how the “Phool shajya tatwa” ( gift exchange to commemorate the first wedding night of the couple. This gift comes from the bride’s family for the groom and his family members) from the girl’s family was from Nakur ( a famous sweet shop which only prepares “Sandesh” in North Kolkata). She recalled with pride that the owners of Nakur had specially come up with the idea of preparing something exclusive for the wedding. The exclusivity attached to Tatwa is shown in the way Tatwa items have travelled from Kheer sweets resembling Bengali Bride and Groom to Horse Pulled Tram, Reindeer, Shawl and of course Fish. 

So, Tatwa on one hand is more than gift exchange and on the other it also about the status of  gift- giving family by gifting “exclusive” ly designed products (in these case sweets) and the social display of gifts by the gift –receiving family. In these exchange and display of gifts are the fascinating products that are created and the turnover generated through selling of “Tatwa” products.

Hence all the giants of the sweet industry on their web portals have a special segment on Tatwas. Though there are many more sweet shops like K.C. Das, Hindusthan Sweets which have portals I am listing the three shops which have a separate section on Tatwa items.

Ballaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick          

This shop was set up in 1885 by Ganesh Chandra Mullick in Bhowanipore far away from North Kolkata which was the hub of sweet shops.

http://www.balarammullick.com/adver/108611tatwa.html

2, Paddapukur Road, Bhowanipur, Kolkata- 700 020, West Bengal, India

(033) 2486 9490 / 2454 0281 Mobile :- 098301 29423

mallicksudip@hotmail.com / info@balarammullick.com

Some of the Tatwa products are : Gatraharidra ( A sandesh encrypted with the order Gatraharidra), Phoolsajya (A sandesh encrypted with the word PhoolSajya), Bridegroom Shell (A shell shaped Sandesh resembling Bridegroom) and the most fascinating that catches my eyes – Fruit shaped sandesh, Horse pulled tram ( made of Kheer), and Shenai Set( a set of musical instruments used for shehnai recital)

Ganguram Sweets

Late Ganguram Chaurasia migrated  from a remote village in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh to Kolkata in the 1880’s. He was a skilled Halwai and could make mouth watering Sweets. He took up a job in the shop owned by the then Raja Kamala Prasad Mukherjee and used to supply Sweets to the Rajbari. However, when the Government decided to evict the shop in order to construct a road, the Raja, pleased with his service, allotted him a small plot of land near Maniktola north Kolkata, from where the journey of Ganguram Sweets began in 1885.

http://www.ganguram.com/product_list.php?id=13

46 C, Chowringhee Road, Everest House. Kolkata -700071

033-22883420/1184 Mobile : 91-9830096322

Some of the products : Prajapati (Butterfly shaped sweet)

 

JalBhara Surjya Modak

For the history and contact details refer to https://itiriti.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/sweet-biographies-of-bengal/.

http://www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com/gallery%20Tawta.html.

Some of the “exclusive” items: Prawns ( a set of prawns), Train, Swan Sitabhog, Swan Kheer, Shawl (sandesh carved to a shawl).

©itiriti