Distance from Kolkata: 47 km approx
Driving Time: 2 hours
Road Trip: 1 day
Every winter brings with itself a heightened sense of sugar rush for the people of Bengal. The air is filled with the sweet fragrance of nolen gur. From korapaaker sandesh to gurer rosogolla, the sweetmeat sellers have numerous mouth watering options to offer. But one particular sweet that unanimously caters to our sweet tooth in winter is the moa. While almost all confectioners and sweet makers try to make a quick buck with the ‘Joynagarer’ moa tag, it is actually Baharu and Joynagar in South 24 Parganas, 47 km away from Kolkata, that have recently acquired the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for producing authentic moa. Thus, Team WHEELS decided to drive out to these places and explore what goes behind in making of an authentic moa and what separates Joynagarer moa from its many misnomers.
For Baharu and Joynagar, start from Ruby Hospital on EM Bypass and proceed towards south. Continue over Patuli crossing and go on to the Dhalai Bridge. Continue straight by the EM Bypass extension with the canal on right for 18.1 km till you meet a T-junction at Baruipur Paddapukur. Turn left from here and follow a bridge to meet Kulpi Road. After 500 mt turn right on a bridge (R.O.B.) leading towards Canning. Proceed 1.7 km to find the direction for Joynagar on right through Kulpi Road. Thereafter, follow Kulpi Road, which passes over Gocharan and Dakshin Barasat to reach Kolur Morh at Baharu, 41.5 km from Kolkata. For Joynagar town, drive for another 6 km straight ahead to find Banerjee Para Morh.
Joynagar and Baharu
Though the GI tag for moa has been received by Joynagar in South 24 Parganas, the best moa makers are based at a suburb called Baharu. Located in Block 1 of Joynagar, Baharu not only produces the major bulk of this delicate sweet, it also happens to be the place from where the moa samples were sent to the GI Council for authentication. Located 6 km north of Joynagar town on the main Kulpi Road that connects Joynagar, Baharu is the main hub for production of best quality moa.
A spectacular gurer haat also operates at Baharu every Monday and Friday at the week hours, during winter. The store rooms of nolen gur are also based at Baharu.
Joynagar being the main administrative division and police station under which Baharu is a sub-divisional block, gains the goodwill for Baharu for producing authentic moa. Located 6 km down the Kulpi Road, it has lesser retail outlets than Baharu.
The main ingredients used in Joynagarer Moa are a sinful blend of nolen gur, spread generously on a bed of Kanakchur khoi. Kanakchur is an aromatic and special variety of slender rice grain that is cultivated in West Bengal. What makes it special is the fact that the khoi (puffed rice) melts in mouth unlike other qualities of khoi. This special quality of Kanakchur khoi is cultivated in a very organic manner using traditional fertilizer in very few pockets in and around Joynagar only during winters. Sprinkled with oodles of khoya kheer, nolen gur and mixed with pure ghee, pistachio, cashew nut and raisins, it turns into a wonder sweet called moa. With the secret proportion of best quality ingredients, original Joynagarer moa exudes a tangy fragrance and melts in the mouth. The rarity of Kanakchur khoi and nolen gur produced in Joynagar make the moa irresistibly special and almost impossible to imitate elsewhere which has led to the GI tag.
Moa making is a daunting task. It begins with the sap collection from date-palm trees at the crack of dawn by the shiuli (sap collectors). The collection of date sap or juice is a laborious process. Shiulis first make incisions on the trunks of the date trees and attach a short pipe (nol in Bengali) at the point of incision and point it to an earthen pot hung on the tree trunk. The date-sap trickles down through the pipe into the earthen pot, kept for collection. Hence the name nolen gur, which has a smoky effervescent flavour. The best variety of nolen gur is the jiren kather nolen gur which gets its name by virtue of the time taken for the sap collection. Unlike in other methods where the sap is collected from a single cut on date-palm tree, the method of collecting jiren kath variety of nolen gur is rather a time-bound process. Angular incisions are made on the tree trunk for sap collection at intervals of every 4-5 days. This slow (jiriye in Bengali) process enhances the quality and flavour of the date sap and produces the best quality of nolen gur.
The date-palm sap collected by the shiulis is then boiled on a slow fire to form a thick viscous jaggery called nolen gur. Once the overall temperature of the gur drops, the Kanakchur khoi is mixed. Khoya kheer (hardened milk), pistachio, cardamom powder, cashews, raisins and pure ghee are then added one after the other to this mix in fixed proportions. Finally, the person making moa greases his hands with ghee and rolls the mix into balls.
The price of moa in Joynagar ranges between Rs 140 to Rs 450 a kg. It is the amount of khoya kheer, ghee and pistachio, cardamom, cashew and raisin that go into the moa actually determine its price.
The cheaper or local variety of moa made in Kolkata or village households range somewhere between Rs 140 and 200. These are made with ordinary quality khoi and nolen gur mixed with milk powder instead of khoya kheer and no ghee or pistachio at all – the most expensive ingredients in a moa.
A box of moa generally contains 12 pieces and weighs around 500 gm with pricing between Rs 70 and 225. Thus, the price of moa starts at `6 per piece and goes up to Rs 20 for the best quality in Joynagar.
Joynagarer moa vs others
For decades, ‘Joynagarer moa’ has been a very popular brand among the sweetmeat sellers all across West Bengal. However, to enhance sale, the local moa makers in Kolkata and suburbs brand their products as ‘Joynagarer moa’ too. Unfortunately, these are far inferior and fail to meet the standard, both in terms of taste as well as quality when compared to the original moa produced in Baharu and Joynagar – as experienced by Team WHEELS.
Another misnomer of Joynagarer moa that raids the markets in winter are the homemade moa of Joynagar. Made by local residents and not the famous confectioners, these are generally supplied to the retailers and wholesalers in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal as Joynagarer moa – although they fall well short of the original quality.
To witness the making of this delicacy, Team WHEELS surveyed some of the best known moa makers of Baharu and Joynagar.
Shyam Sundar Mistanna Bhandar
Price: Rs 180 – Rs 450 per kg
This 43 year old shop helped fetch the GI of moa to Joynagar. It was from here that moa samples were sent to the GI Council, claimed Bablu Ghosh, one of the owners of the shop which propelled their shop to fame.
Shyam Sundar’s version of moa is comparatively less sweet and creamier than the others – something that has generated a craze for their moa.
According to Bablu Ghosh, it is the addition of best-in-class ingredients mixed proportionately that imparts the heavenly taste, which is their USP.
Operational from 5 am in the morning to 11:30 pm at night, this shop sees footfalls cross hundred each day with customers flocking in from across borders as well. During the visit of Team WHEELS, retailers from Bangladesh were found waiting in queue for their turn to order.
The secret to the delicious taste of the moa here is the generous addition of khoya kheer made at their factory which renders it a creamier feel than the other versions. The measured proportion of pistachio and cardamom too renders Shaym Sundar Mistanna Bhandar the most popular status.
Binapani Mistanna Bhandar
Kolur Morh, Baharu
Price: Rs 160 – Rs 350
There might only be a handful of people who have been to Baharu and not heard the name of Mahadeb Das, the proprietor of Binapani Mistanna Bhandar. Now in its 82nd year, Binapani Mistanna Bhandar is one of the most well known sweetmeat shops of the area. Their version of moa has an addictive sweetness to it. The front porch of the shop brims with the sweet smell of nolen gur and has patrons flocking in numbers to try out the different qualities of moa available.
According to Mahadeb, Baharu doesn’t get the requisite credit it deserves since the main focus goes to Joynagar. He claims, the unique taste is certainly different from the moa made at Joynagar town. Mahadeb narrates, from the shiuli to the tradesmen – around 2 lakh people are involved in the moa making industry, in Baharu and Joynagar. According to Mahadeb, the number is dwindling down due to people leaving this seasonal business in search of round-the-year occupations.
Much like the rest of Baharu, Binapani too makes the sweeter version of the delicacy but the winning ingredient here is the powdered khoya kheer lathered all around the moa that gives it a distinct taste.
Lakkhisri Mistanna Bhandar
Kolur Morh, Baharu
Price: Rs 140 – Rs 400 per kg
Open 24×7 throughout the peak season of 15 November to 15 February, Lakkhisri is one of the most prominent moa makers of Baharu. Operational for around 70 years now, the business is run by brothers Swapan and Tapan Gayen – third generation of the family. According to Swapan, Baharu is the place of actual origin of moa and produces a larger quantity than does Joynagar.
Lakkhisri Mistanna Bhandar, a quintessential pop-up sweetmeat shop on Kulpi Road, flourishes during winter and bears a typical look and feel of an exclusive moa outlet. Furnished with loud exteriors, the shop sees a lot of motorists stop by and enquire about their offerings. Lakkhisri’s USP lies in their use of jiren kather nolen gur in moa and other jaggery based sweetmeats.
Ramkrishna Mistanna Bhandar
304, Kulpi Road, Joynagar
Price: Rs 240 – Rs 450 per kg
The main shop in Joynagar, situated at Banerjee Para Morh on Kulpi Road, is just over 30 years old, and sees retail sale skyrocketing during the November-February period. With moa sales crossing 400 kilos per day, Ramkrishna Mistanna Bhandar is the most coveted moa maker of Joynagar.
During our visit to their shop, we were invited to witness their moa making and to observe how it is made for different price points. The murki was prepared beforehand with six people, distributing it equally amongst themselves. The moa at the lowest price point of Rs 240 per kg sees no addition of dry fruits – cashews or raisins; for the mid-range moa of `350 per kg – a limited amount of dry fruits, khoya kheer and cardamom powder are added and the final mix is prepared after the addition of 1 kg pure ghee. What separates the highest price range of Rs 450 per kg moa from the others is the addition of 2 kg pure ghee along with meatier chunks of home-made khoya kheer.
The Joynagar variant of moa is generally less sweet but creamier in comparison to the Baharu variant. According to Ashok Kayal, the owner of Ramkrishna Mistanna Bhandar, it is that what makes this variant more desirable.
Another difference amongst both the variants is that every Baharu moa maker places a single cashew atop the moa, sprinkled with powdered pistachio, whereas, in the Joynagar variant, cashews are added in the final mix before rolling them into moa balls.
For those who prefer other wintery desserts to be a part of their sweet corner, Joynagar offers gurer badam chak, khejur gurer patali, gurer Kalakand, Roshbhora and not to miss, the amazing gurer rosogolla.
After the drive to Joynagar in search of authentic moa, Team WHEELS resolved that if it has to be moa, they would happily drive down to Joynagar every winter to relish the magic ball.
Moa: Rs 140 – Rs 450 per kg
Patali: Rs 120 – Rs 200 per kg
Gurer Rosogolla: Rs 7 – Rs 10 per piece
Badam Chak: Rs 150 per kg
Milk Cake: Rs 350 per kg
Gurer Kalakand: Rs 6 – Rs 10 per piece