| The array of sweets on offer. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Raso kadambo can be as rollicking as choconut sundae and sarbhaja from Krishnagar can melt in the mouth faster than you can say mango mousse. Traditional Bengali sweets may be thinning out, but given half a chance, the Calcuttan would take a trip down mishti memory lane. Case in pithe-puli point: The crowds at the “first-ever” Pithe and Mishti Utsav at Millennium Park on Thursday, gulping down raso-kadambo from Malda, mihidana and sitabhog from Burdwan and Joynagarer moa.
“Sweets are inextricably linked with Bengali culture, but slowly, Western desserts and North Indian sweets are invading Bengali homes. Through this three-day festival, we want to promote traditional Bengali sweets, which are not only tasty but also have high nutrition value,” said Somwrita Maiti, secretary, Asian Society for Health Assistance. For the city-based organisation, which works with schoolchildren to spread awareness on nutrition, the mishti mela is an “effort” to offer Calcuttans a taste of tradition.
Besides sweets, the fair also has space for “traditional Bengali snacks”, like kochuri-alur dom. “We have just five stalls here, serving an entire gamut of Bengali sweets, besides demonstrating how they can be made at home,” said Somwrita.
According to her, the response on Day One has been “phenomenal”, with people from all walks of life trooping in for a taste of yesterday.
“I was going back home after a shoot when I suddenly saw the banner and walked in,” admitted Arundhati De, a fashion designer, enjoying a plate of dudh-puli. “I love these items, but hardly get a chance nowadays to enjoy such sweets. It’s true that my food habit has a continental bias, but I must say that these desserts are just too good to resist,” she added, before heading for Binapani Mistanna Bhandar to try out some Joynagarer moa by award-winning sweet-maker Mahadeb Das.
He lives in Baharu, a small village in South 24-Parganas, but never misses the opportunity to come to Calcutta and set up a sweet stall. Besides doing brisk business for a week or two, Das also ropes in some celebrity clients, whom he serves through the year. “Jyotibabu once had makha sandesh and moa from my stall during Hasta Shilpa Mela. He and his wife liked them very much and every winter, I send sweets to their residence,” smiled Das.
So, are we ready for a revival' Nawal Joshi of Gangaur is a seemingly unlikely source to reaffirm faith in Bengali sweets. But he does. “We sell Bengali as well as non-Bengali sweets, and the laddus and sohanpapris are equally popular. In winter, you can’t beat the nalen gurer mishtis and gajar halwa,” says Joshi, about his Russell Street store. “Actually, the reason for an overall decline in sweet-buying is that the younger generation is gravitating towards bakeries and ice-creams. But mishtis will never die out in Calcutta.”
While agreeing that the city definitely has a tooth for traditional sweets, Siddharth Dixit of Baskin Robbins clarified that the Calcutta consumer is only just gradually starting to experiment with ice-creams. “The fruit flavours are the most popular, especially the Alfonso-and-Cream. During festivals, though, the pre-packaged rosogollas give our packed ice-creams good competition as gift items.”
But chocolates are definitely a universal favourite, said Pooja Kapoor of Kookie Jar. “At marriage ceremonies, there will always be sweets, and at birthdays, cake reigns supreme. Calcuttans have refined tastes, so as confectioners, we don’t need to compete with mishtis.”