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Eye-poppers of nawab land

With Mamata Banerjee being gifted a 12kg chhanabora on Wednesday, perhaps it’s time to dig a little deep into the Bengali sweet. And wonder why it’s losing out to the rosogolla and the pantua, the langcha from Saktigarh and the mihidana from Burdwan.

Somehow, the chhanabora from Murshidabad hardly finds a mention in the canon. Chhanabora is uttered more often in the Bengali phrase for astonishment — “chokkhu chhanabora”, which means eyes popping out.

Maybe it’s the way the chhanabora is, which has left it dangling in the zone of confusion between the rosogolla and the pantua. It’s made of cottage cheese, like the rosogolla. But it is a burnt brown, like the pantua.

The tale of how the chhanabora came to be lies there.

It is believed, at least in sweet shops in Behrampore, that the chhanabora happened because Manindrachandra Nandi, the maharaja of Cossimbazar in Murshidabad, wanted a unique sweet. He ordered his cook, Patal Ustad, to make a sweet that would neither be like the rosogolla, nor the pantua.

After some thought, Patal Ustad came up with the chhanobora, fried and sweetened cottage-cheese balls. Not a rosogolla or a pantua, rather a bit of both.

Deep-fried in ghee and flavoured with cardamom, the chhanabora sells in almost every Behrampore sweet shop. It is priced between Rs 5 and Rs 10 and weighs 75-120gm apiece.

But that’s for regular patrons.

Chhanabora in Murshidabad has earned a high-powered patrons’ list recently.

Anand Sweets in Behrampore’s Gorabazar made the 12kg chhanabora for Mamata. It outdid itself apparently on the instruction of the Trinamul Congress, which wanted to serve the chief minister a chhanabora heavier than the one gifted to Rahul Gandhi on the request of local Congress MP Adhir Chaudhury in 2009. The chhanabora given to the Gandhi scion weighed 10kg.

Manjushree Sweets had served chhanabora to Rahul and then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee the same year. The owner of Manjushree, Arun Das, has put up a laminated picture of Rahul and Mukherjee eating chhanabora at a small table. Das said that after having two chhanaboras, Mukherjee asked for two more.

But the gigantic sphere of cottage cheese that Anand Sweets made for Rahul was not its first.

Bijoy Gopal Saha, the owner, said: “We prepared a 10kg chhanabora for Birju Maharaj, who was in Behrampore for a dance workshop. Whoever comes to Behrampore has to have the sweet. We even get orders from outside India.”

There’s another shop in Behrampore that prepared chhanaboras for Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi when they visited Behrampore in 1992. “The Gandhi family is familiar with our sweets,” Kajal Saha of Mitali said.

Not too many shops in Calcutta sell the chhanabora, probably another reason why the sweet is not at the top of the popularity chart.

“Lack of good karigars (sweet makers) is a problem,” Bijoy Gopal said. “These days they do not have the patience that earlier karigars had. Preparing a chhanabora requires a lot of patience and the ingredients should be mixed in the right proportion. We are worried that in the absence of good hands, this sweet may disappear,” he said.