Monday, December 19, 2005

lost addresses

Can anyone tell me where Dwarik Ghosh is located today or Sen Mahasay or Jalajog or Ganguram or Bhim Nag? The young persons know the location of Mc Donald’s and other pizza joints, to them these names are not likely to ring any bell. But for those who are in the fifty plus age bracket, these will certainly bring back pleasant memories of an era gone by, a period that has been lost forever to modernization.

The last I remember of Dwarik Ghosh is the large glass showcase in Shyambazar with the owner sitting behind the counter and delivering what the customer ordered. The shop was famous for the kachuris made of green peas – the process was unique, the first green peas of the season had a taste of their own. These would be boiled, mashed and spices added. Then they would be stuffed into balls made of maida and deep-fried in ghee. The final product had a distinct flavor of its own; you just could not hide it. People standing around you in the bus stop or the tram stop would know for certain that you were carrying the products of Dwarik Ghosh. The shop was also well known for a sweet called chhanar murki – a simple preparation, it was of the dry type. Chhana (or paneer) would be cut into tiny cubes, and cooked in a syrup of sugar. Flavor would be imparted by addition of the essence of attar. Once cooked properly, they would be laid out to dry. These could be preserved for some days.

Jalajog was renowned for its payodhi – it was a different variety of sweet curd. It had a reddish tinge and tasted heavenly. The shop in Shyambazar had a large painting of Rabindra Nath Tagore and in the bottom, his appreciation of the payodhi of Jalajog. Similarly, Sen Mahasay located in a tiny lane of Shyambazar in the vicinity of the cinema hall Talkie Show House served delicious Tal-sansh sandesh. Ganguram and Bhim Nag were other shops that had their specialties. In those days, advertisements used to be by word of mouth – the culture of North Calcutta was different from that of South Calcutta. When guests dropped by in the evenings, the local shops would be patronized – sweets were a must and, if the guest discovered something new, he would carry back samples. Later, he might become a patron of that particular outlet. That was the USP of these pioneers of sweetmeats – offer variety. Like the shop just a few steps away from Metro cinema – it was named Kalpataru and was one of the main outlets for North Indian, Gujarati and Rajasthani sweets.

Monday, December 05, 2005

winter means nalen gur

Nalen gur (or date molasses) is a specialty of Bengal – both West Bengal and Bangladesh - and is used extensively to prepare delicacies of winter. Nalen gur is a preparation from the juice of date trees that are collected and heated to obtain the final product that leaves one wonderstruck – the taste is heavenly. It is said that the heating is an art. Those who have seen the movie ‘Saudaagar’ starring Amitabh Bachhan and Nutan will realize that a lot of dedication has to go into the process. Unfortunately, this year, there is a complaint that the nalen gur has lost its flavor.

‘…… Regrettably though, the date trees are now more in use for their fuel wood value than as a source of the traditional juice which is made into cake called nalen gur (boiled and condensed juice of date plant). However, the numbers of these date tree are dwindling in the division. Production of nalen gur, too, has fallen sharply compared to the previous years …..’

‘ ……. The date palm sap is made into three types of gur: liquid, grainy and the solid chunks of patali. The sap is heated in huge karais over wood or coal stoves and it is only an expert who can gauge the different degrees of cooking to achieve the right textures. The arrival of gur in the market is the signal for the professional sweet-makers to start preparing one of their most popular products, sandesh flavoured with the new gur. This nalen gurer sandesh has a brownish-pink tinge and is very dear to the plump Bengali's heart. At the beginning of the season. Gur is sold in its liquid form, jhola gur. This comes in earthen ports and disappears fast enough. In our home it would be used like maple syrup in America, poured over hot luchis or chapattis and as a sweetener in the milk. It ferments easily and so has to be eaten quickly. In rural areas the fermented gur is made into a kind of cheap liquour which tribals and poor villagers drink. It was this same jhola gur which inspired committed following from exceptional Bengalis like Sukumar Ray, our version of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll. In one of his delightful poems he spun out an absurdly contradictory list of the good things of life, and the very best of the best was bread with jhola gur. The solid patali gur can be stored and used for quite a few months after winter is over, and refrigeration gives it even longer life. The most notable application for its use is in payesh, in place of sugar. The pure nutty sweetness of the gur makes this winter payesh a Bengali gourmet's dream……’

KRISHNAGAR, Nov. 21. — As the winter approaches Bengalis are busy preparing their favourite sweet meats, as it is the time when old Krishnanagariks enjoy a variety of recipes with nalen gur (date molasses) which are now sold even from regular sweet shops. …… In the past few days, it was the best time to have dinner with the hand-made rotis. ….. Now they have found more attractive uses like nalen gurer sandesh and rosogolla, not to forget the payesh that tastes wonderful at this time of the year.
It was during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century that the Nadia sweet-makers came up with the nalen gur sandesh, which is now popular not only in Bengal but in other parts of India also.
The enjoyment of Raas festival is now slowly fading out from Nadia but the aroma of the first nalen gur in the earthen pots has started to fill the air. This is the season of molasses, better known as nalen gur. And if you wish to have a taste of the original stuff, then you will have to visit Majdiya in Nadia bordering Bangladesh.

soft targets

Those who are under the impression that soft targets are associated only with terrorists are a terribly misinformed lot. Soft targets are those who do not have the power to resist force and violence – usually, the term is used to mean defenseless persons like the aged, the women and children. Also, areas where no one would ever dream of exploding a bomb- like a park.

Soft targets to ordinary persons of my disposition are those goodies that beckon you from the showcases – the sweets that entice you with their heavenly colors, divine flavors and assorted shapes and sizes. Some of them are hard on the exterior but they melt in your mouth. Others are soft, swim in the large bowl of syrup waiting to be gently lifted and transferred to a plate to soothe the yearnings of the palate. Indians love sweets and the variety that is available throughout the country can vie for world records. Each area has its preferences and, even though you get rosogollas in Delhi and Mumbai and Bangalore and Hyderabad, you cannot get the typical spongy feel of the products of Bengal. Similarly for other products that are made out of milk – the procedure to convert milk into delicious mouth watering soft targets enjoy exclusive proprietary rights. As in other fields, copies are no match for the originals.

Another popular soft target is the chocolate – the branded ones are a must when someone by the name of Pappu passes his examinations. These also come in all shapes and sizes from the tiny gems to the really soft centered éclairs to the bar chocolates. During festivities these come gift wrapped in attractive cartons.

The ice creams hold center stage when it comes to soft targets – from small cups to cones to bars and the family packs, there are many options. These have entered marriage venues also and are served as desserts.