It took a natural calamity for the sweetmakers of the iconic Surjya Kumar Modak to come up with a new mishti innovation. When a kalbaisakhi or Nor’westers hit the town of Chandannagar in the Hooghly district of West Bengal this year, it resulted in fallen mangoes that were on the verge of getting dumped. The mishti experts took matters into their own hands for fear of the produce getting wasted. After a few brainstorming sessions, a kaancha aam-er jelly or raw mango jelly was born. “It was a hit,” declares Saibal Kumar Modak, the third generation owner about his latest success.
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The nolen gur or date palm jaggery season is probably the highlight of mishti culture in Bengal. Albeit, sweets made with fresh fruits such as pineapple, strawberry, lychee and mango are equal showstoppers. Considering its prolonged availability as well as popularity, sweets made with mango take over the glassed shelves of big and small mishti shops in summer. The display sees an assortment of traditional creations prepared with the pulp of the indigenous cultivar Himsagar, and even Maharashtra’s famed Alphonso. Pillowy roshogollos and buttery-smooth sandesh get a makeover in the form of old-meets-new fusions.
Mishti is the lifeline of Bengal. Households stock up on them for a quick snack in the evening, or for that guest who arrives without notice. Celebrations are incomplete without a pot of roshogolla and mishti doi. The sweet-makers are therefore tasked with experiments to keep up with the demand as well as the times.
The 1885 Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick, who are known for their “all natural” experimental flavours, boasts of a seasonal sandesh that mimics an ice-cream called mango gelato sandesh. “Although ice-cream as a category has a huge market in other metros, in Kolkata, it is slow moving. Mishti is what drives us. So, why not combine the two?” points out director-owner Sudip Mullick. The ice-cream aficionado wanted to give the existing ice-cream sandesh a facelift, and that’s how the gelato sandesh was born five years ago. Prepared with chana or cottage cheese, it is combined with fresh mango pulp and cooked for several hours. What makes it unique is that it is served cold, and the textural finesse gives it a creamy mouthfeel. “I realised it was a success when Sachin Tendulkar told me that he had not eaten something like this before,” says Mullick. It is sold by weight, and is priced at ₹700 per kg. The brand also makes green mango roshogolla and mango doi or yoghurt.
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Businesses are also forced to innovate keeping the customer and cost factors in mind especially during a lockdown. The challenges are many, says Modak of the 1818 mishti institution. “Amidst everything, we have to keep the customers happy by offering something new every season,” he says. As the original makers of jolbhora sondesh, Modak makes a variant with Alphonso mango pulp in the centre. There’s also an item inspired by the classic kulfi, where the pit of the Himsagar mango is removed, and filled with mango-flavoured kulfi and frozen whole.
An inventive range of sandesh at the 180-year-old Nalin Chandra Das & Sons once again puts the spotlight on the craftsmanship of the moira or sweetmaker. The popular sweet chain celebrates the king of fruits in the form of malai rolls, sandesh, aam doi and more. The summer speciality Alphonso mango sandesh is all the rage here, where fresh pulp is combined with chana and moulded in the shape of a mango. “We use Alphonso because it is preferred for its sweet flavour, unlike other varieties that often tend to be sour,” says proprietor Tapan Kumar Das. There’s also mango ice-cream sandesh, kaancha aame-er sandesh that is made with green mango pulp, and mango chanar payesh, a semi-solid, kheer-like product served in small earthen pots. Monohara, a rare gem known for its sugar-coated crust, gets a timely makeover too. Like the rest, a canned version of Alphonso mango pulp is stocked up to make a handful of sweets throughout the year.
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But, mishti shops across the state are struggling to survive the times. Smaller establishments have not been able to roll out a mango menu yet due to lockdown restrictions. Thanks to the mango inspiration, here’s a foolproof recipe of aam sandesh to try in the comfort of your kitchen.
Recipe for Aam Sandesh
1 and half litres full fat milk
1 cup mango pulp
Half cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp lime juice or vinegar
2-3 tbsp milk powder
Nuts for garnishing
1. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy bottomed vessel.
2. Add the lime juice and turn off the gas.
3. After 5-7 mins, the milk will curdle. Strain it through a cheesecloth and wash it under running water.
4. Hang the cheesecloth using a support until the excess water has drained. This should take about an hour.
5. Take the paneer out on a plate, and start kneading it until smooth in texture. Add sugar and continue kneading.
6. Heat a pan and put the paneer.
7. Add the mango pulp and milk powder.
8. Cook this for 10-15 mins until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan.
9. Turn off the gas, and allow the mixture to cool down.
10. You can either shape them into balls and flatten them, or set the mixture in a tray and cut into squares.
12. Garnish with nuts of your choice.
Feast from the East is a series that celebrates the culinary heritage of eastern and north-eastern India. Rituparna Roy is a Mumbai-based writer.