Sweet decadence of Bengal

Sponge rasgulla is iconic to Kolkata
Image courtesy: ©subodhsathe/Getty Images

Although the world associates the word “Mishti” with either the popular Sandesh or the quintessential Roshogolla, but the word holds a different meaning in the dusty bylanes of rural West Bengal. Here the concept and type of Mishti changes every ten kilometres. The “Mishti” is so essential to life here that marriages, birthdays or for that matter any meal wouldn’t be complete without it. I take the local train that connects Kolkata to its suburbs and plan to discover the variations of Bengali Mishti as it chugs all the way from Kolkata to Bankura, revelling in the Bengali countryside all the way.

One of my first stops is at Chandannagore, the former cultural capital of French East India, where I headed to Surya Kumar Modak & Sons.

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The nolen gurer rasgulla is flavoured with spiced jaggery
The nolen gurer rasgulla is flavoured with spiced jaggery
Image courtesy: ©Sudipto De

One of the oldest shops in the city, it shot to fame with its Jolbhora. A core of subtly sweetened liquid that’s hidden under an exterior of Kheer encrusted goodliness. This Mishti has spawned numerous copies all over the world but only at Surya Kumar Modak will you find the original taste and flavour. As you break the Mishti, the thick gooey liquid sometimes flavoured with Nolen Gur (spiced jaggery) oozes out.

The langcha tastes best with sugar syrup
The langcha tastes best with sugar syrup
Image courtesy: ©Sudipto De

There is a lingering taste of Nolen Gur on my palate as I get back on the train to head to my paternal grandparent’s house in Burdwan. Just a station away from my destination, I get down at Shaktigarh. The newly built highway that runs through this part of West Bengal is lined up with shops advertising the town’s most favourite produce: the Langcha. A close relative of the Gulab Jamun that we eat in North India, the Langcha is a deep fried cylinder of Chena before being dunked in flavoured sugar syrup. Although every shop will proclaim theirs to be the best, just nestle into any one of them and find yourself the size that you like (sizes range from 50gms-5kgs). Dunk the broken pieces of the Langcha in the syrup served along with it to experience true taste of heaven.

Sitabhog has aromatic flavours
Sitabhog has aromatic flavours
Image courtesy: ©Sudipto De

A few kilometres down the road in Burdwan, another delicacy awaits me. I head to the Ganesh Mishtanna Bhandar through the narrow winding roads as the smell of jaggery hangs dense in the air. Here I get a plateful of what looks to be long grained rice but has quite an aromatic and wonderful flavour: The Sitabhog. It is a magical creation combining crushed rice, chena and sugar syrup into something so fluffy and soft that it literally melts on your palate. The mark of a good Sitabhog is that it’s cooked in desi ghee which doesn’t leave a trace of grease on your palate.

Mihidana is an iconic sweet from Burdwan
Mihidana is an iconic sweet from Burdwan
Image courtesy: ©Sudipto De

The Mihidana traces its roots back to the Burdwan Rajgharana which ruled it’s fiefdom till about 50 years ago.

We then board the Black Diamond Express, a train aptly named after its destination: the coal fields of Raniganj and Dhanbad. We get down at Durgapur before trudging along to our destination. Here, a familiar friend greets me in a new avatar. The Langcha of Shaktigarh has been transformed into a Nikhuti. The Chena may have been fried a bit more, the syrup a bit more sugary but the flavours will still keep bringing you back for more. My final stop on the itinerary is quite an offbeat one: a quiet hamlet known as Krishnanagar. Although it does not usually feature on a tourist itinerary, it should definitely happen on a foodie’s, just for its Shorpuriya. The cream of milk is allowed to evaporate slowly creating thin sheets which are then bundled up and put through a flavouring process to make it one of the best sweets I have tasted in a long time.

Bengal’s sweets are very inherently linked to its culture and the people and it’s probably one of the best ways to explore the state.