Over the years a lot has changed about Diwali in Kolkata. The millions of diyas which dispelled the darkness and ignorance spreading the light of love and radiance have given way to Chinese made decorative lamps of varied hues. The rangolis too come ready-made. The sweets, earlier prepared at home, also come packed in boxes. But one thing is yet to change- the sweet fragrance of pure desi ghee which makes these sweets so tempting
Quite a few decades ago, or in some cases a century ago, a man usually from the far–off villages in Uttar Pradesh came to the city to establish a desi mithai shop, often selling samosas or even hot milk. From this humble beginning grew huge chains of sweetmeat shops like Gupta Brothers, Haldiram, Tewari Brothers or Sharma Sweets who have been enticing our taste buds with gulab jamuns, jalebis, laddoos, kaju barfis, pedas, kesariya sandesh and thick rabris. And Diwali in Kolkata has become synonymous with decorative boxes containing varieties of laddoos and barfis as with trays of dry fruits, diyas and crackers.
The use of besan, mawa, nuts make the mithais so delectably delicious even to the Bengali taste buds which are more acquainted to the taste of chhana and the thick sugary syrup. The use of kesar (saffron) and rose water also brought in a fragrance hitherto unknown to the Bengali olfactory senses. Even as food inflation has broken all records and the prices of all the ingredients from milk to sugar have shot through the roof, there has not been any compromise in the proportion of desi ghee or the mawa in the sweets of these popular confectioners. “I love eating these laddoos and gulab jamuns just because of the smell of pure desi ghee that hits your senses. The desi ghee laddoos from Tewari Brothers are a personal favourite,” said Shounak Ghosh of Ballygunge who vouch that there has been no compromise in the taste since his childhood.
The bustling shop of Tewari Brothers at Minto Park is a pointer to their popularity and the owners claim that their medium for all products be it sweet or snacks, is still pure desi ghee. Their laddoos and kaju barfi among the traditional North Indian sweets, have a huge fan following. But Gupta Brothers have also been innovative. Apart from the array of traditional North Indian sweets that are available the confectioner came up with a new recipe of mixing chhana to give the North Indian tongue a taste of the Bengali sweets. The recipe is still a secret but it is a mix of rasagolla, sandesh and malai. It was named “Abar Khabo” after the customers asked for it again and again. “It is our signature item and has contributed immensely towards our popularity. It is perhaps the most popular sweet item in Kolkata after rasagolla, mishti doi and sandesh”, said Pappu Gupta of Gupta Brothers. But when it comes to innovation, Gupta Brothers are not the only ones who are experimenting with different tastes. The trend extends to other popular confectioners of Kolkata as well. In fact this festive season, Haldiram has launched several new varieties of sweets with a mix of chhana and north Indian dry fruits to romance with the Bengali taste buds.
Then there are lip smacking gajar ka halwa seasoned with the choicest nuts or kaju katli and kaju anar, though essentially Gujrati in origin but have been well accepted by the cosmopolitan Kolkatan. So for once bid goodbye to your calorie concerns and let’s gorge on delicious laddoos, barfis and hot gulab jamuns and jalebis.
Some of the popular varieties are as follows:
• Moti Choor Ladoo: Round in shape, made of besan (gram four) and consisting of cardamom, pistachio and a touch of saffron.
• Jalebi: A popular sweet made of besan and dipped in sugary syrup.
• Kaju Katli: A soft diamond shaped sweet made from freshly grounded cashews. • Kaju-Pista Rolls: A twist of cashew and pistachio.
• Peda: A special mithai recipe preparation from khoa flour. The pedas from Agra are the most famous in India. • Barfi: Quadrangular shaped sweets made of whole milk and sugar, garnished with cardamom and pistachios. Extremely popular across the country.
• Gulab Jamun: A tasty circular mithai that comes dipped in sugary syrup. It tops everyone's wish list.
• Badam Barfi: Square shaped barfis made from almonds and topped with cardamom seeds and pistachio nuts.