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Searching for the best Mishti in West Bengal

Gear up for a 150km drive looking for the world’s best sweets

brunch Updated: Jun 02, 2018 22:21 IST
Boria Majumdar
Boria Majumdar
Hindustan Times
In Bengal, every function from weddings to funerals, annaprasans to birthdays has mishti as an inevitable accompaniment(Boria Majumdar)

India’s everyday life, all over the country, is nothing without mishti (sweets). Perhaps Bengal has a sweeter tooth than most, because every Hindu ritual in this state, from weddings to funerals, annaprasans to birthdays, not to mention the pujas, has mishti as an inevitable accompaniment.

At weddings, for example, the ritual is to send beautifully decorated trays of mishti to the groom’s household and vice-versa on the morning of the ceremony. Some even send mishti with the wedding invitation, because it is considered auspicious. The mother-in-law, who doesn’t go to her son’s wedding in Bengal as part of the custom, feeds the bride a mishti to welcome her home and mark the onset of a smooth working relationship. The Ashirbad (a pre-wedding ritual) entails feeding mishti to close family members, and at funerals, the most solemn ceremony of all, there is still lots of mishti.

Mohini sandesh is filled with mango in summers and gur in winters (Boria Majumdar)

At Puja pandals, the bhog has an array of mishti as part of the menu, and Bijoya, the single biggest festival in the Bengali calendar, is never complete unless you feed mishti to everyone around you. Sindur Khela and mishti khawano (feeding mishti) marks the close of the Durga Puja celebrations.

Small is delicious

It is this omnipresence of mishti that makes an excursion from Kolkata to Durgapur so interesting. While Kolkata has its own share of signature mishti shops – Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick have stood out in the last decade – each small town between the megalopolis and Durgapur has its own local delicacy, and people in these towns are passionate about their signature export.

One mishti shop not to be missed in Kolkata is Balaram Mullick

In your mishti adventure, Rishra, Bhadreshwar, or Chandannagar should be your first stop. At Rishra, for example, you have to stop for the jalbhara at Felu Modak, which is distinctly taller than the traditional Kolkata jalbhara. And Amitava Dey of Felu Modak, unlike others in the trade, has a modern outlook, placing as much emphasis on the look and feel of the shop as on the taste of the jalbhara.

The moment you break the jalbhara (gurbhara in winter) down the middle, fresh natun gur (new gur) oozes out. The alluring aroma whets the appetite and soothes the senses. The jalbhara literally melts into the mouth. Take small bites to savour the taste, and by the time you near the end, your taste buds are more than satisfied.

At Rishra, the jalbhara at Felu Modak is taller than the traditional Kolkata jalbhara (Boria Majumdar)

The idea is to enjoy the mishti, not make a pig of yourself on it. That’s the one major difference between the early/mid 20th century and now. Till half a century ago, eating vast quantities of mishti was considered the hallmark of real machismo. It was commonplace to hear people laud someone for eating 70 or even 80 rosogollas at a wedding. Mishti eating competitions were common, and the more you consumed, the more of a man you were. Growing up in Kolkata, I have seen people tell waiters at wedding receptions that they need to overturn buckets of mishti on the plates at the end of a meal. The statement sab dhele dao ja ache (overturn whatever you have with you) was perceived as a marker of ability. The bewilderment on the face of the person serving added to the occasion, and encouraged people to show off even more.

Gaja is a flour-based sweet (Boria Majumdar)

With increased health awareness, such acts of machismo have given way to a more tempered devouring of the mishti, an action that allows one to enjoy the aftertaste better.

Simply the best

Assuming the jalbhara has done enough to keep you going for an hour or more, the next stop has to be Pandua. The makha sandesh has given Pandua its identity. Made with sugar syrup in summer, the mix is perfect and the thickness just right. It doesn’t feel heavy on the tongue and about 100 grams can be consumed in no time. Don’t eat more than that, for Shaktigarh and Bardhaman aren’t far away and stops at both these destinations are a must.

Labanga latika is specially made for festivals (Boria Majumdar)

The fact that one is nearing Shaktigarh is evident from a distance. Signs announcing the home of the lyangcha (or langcha) are displayed in abundance, and each of the shops along the chain, which stretches for close to a kilometre, claims a heritage and a rich history to its name. Never mind which is the original one. Just sit down and have a freshly made lyangcha. They come in various sizes and are a tad darker in colour than their Kolkata counterpart.

Mango dahi with chunks of the fruit is only available between April and June (Boria Majumdar)

The lyangcha is a heavy mishti. To have more than one requires courage, and I don’t recommend the bravado. But one is a must. Pick one slightly more dark brown, dolloped perfectly in the thickened, but not too thick ras, and you are in divine territory. The trick is to mix the broken lyangcha in the ras before putting the first piece into the mouth. This is true indulgence and not at all what your doctor has ordered. But just go for it this one time.

The 300-year-old delicacy

The final destination on this 150km sweet ride is Bardhaman, where you have two varieties of mishti to deal with, the sitabhog and the mihidana. Neither is easily available in Kolkata anymore, at least not quality versions.

Judging the quality of the sitabhog is actually fairly easy. If you have a greasy feeling under your tongue after eating it, the maker has failed. Sitabhog has to disappear into the mouth without an aftertaste. And I like my mihidana adequately sweet, not of the recent sugar-free variety.

A worker makes makha sandesh at Balaram Mullick

Now finish your journey with the chanabara in Durgapur. It will take an hour and more to travel from Bardhaman to Durgapur, time enough for you to digest the sitabhog and mihidana. One chanabara for the trip back to Kolkata is a must. It has a slightly hard outer coating made with sugar, and on the inside is the delicious chana mixed in the ras. A good chanabara is a delicacy that has survived for three centuries and more.

Returning home, it is advisable to take the expressway. Too much mishti is already in the system and there’s no point trying to prolong the honeymoon. This highway is easily comparable to the Mumbai-Pune expressway, and the ride back can be interesting with some soothing music. Remember to unwind in this indulgent manner once a year. It’s worth every calorie.

The author is an Indian sports journalist, academician and author. He also co-authored Sachin’s autobiography Playing It My Way in 2014 along with the cricketer.

From HT Brunch, June 3, 2018

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First Published: Jun 02, 2018 20:40 IST