A sweet corner
A 24/7 hub offers some of Kolkata's oldest and most reputed sweet brands under a single roof
The tall, lean man in a crisp blue shirt had only just reached out for his bowl of warm gokul pithe, served over the counter at Banchharam, when his colleague called out to him from Gupta Brothers. “This malai paturi is a must try," he said, pointing to a tray heaped with small banana leaf parcels in a glass cabinet. The first man took a bite of his syrup-soaked pithe, picked up his briefcase and walked over to his colleague, a few feet away, with purpose. “We must not forget the baked roshogolla from Balaram" he said, turning his colleague’s attention to the small crowd outside Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick. “I have already asked them to keep it packed," his colleague replied smugly. Nearby, at the counter of the 178-year-old Nalin Chandra Das & Sons, three elderly women talked animatedly over their winter speciality—mousumi, a decadent sandesh stuffed with nolen gur-soaked coconut and cashew nuts. “Let’s try the aam sandesh at K.C. Das next," one of them exclaims.
Yes, it’s now possible to pick up signature sweets from some of Kolkata’s best sweet shops under one roof at Misti Hub in New Town. Conceived by Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, and developed and operated by West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corp. (Hidco), the singular food court dedicated to Bengal’s unparalleled sweetmeat legacy opened in July. And it’s a hit not only with residents of the area and those who visit the sprawling Eco Park, but also with people headed out of the city. “Who doesn’t want to take some laal doi or nolen gurer mishti from Bengal home," says Debashis Sen, chairman and managing director, Hidco.
Only sweetshops with a legacy of at least 25 years could bid for a spot at the swanky Misti Hub. From grand old players like Naba Krishna Guin, Ganguram and the legendary K.C. Das to relatively new entrants like Banchharam and Mithai, the Bangla Misti Hub has as many as 11 of the city’s most popular sweetmeat brands under the same roof. “Besides, there’s a booth dedicated to sweetmeats from the districts of Bengal, where different districts will take turns to showcase their speciality sweetmeats," says Sen. Currently, you could sample Bardhaman’s sitabhog and mihidana at this counter. Next up, in all probability, are Nadia’s signature sar bhaja and sar puria.
The sprawling glass-walled indoor piazza, though distinctly modern in its minimalism, is evocative of the old-world charm of colonial Calcutta reflected in the latticed wrought-iron grilles and trellised archways, the small central courtyard, antique caned furniture and the flamboyant chandeliers reminiscent of the jhaarbaatis of old Calcutta’s grand family mansions that came up in the 19th century. A vintage chest of map drawers has been used to exhibit colourful illustrations of mishti-related trivia and the history and origins of iconic Bengali sweetmeats. “The idea was to recreate the erstwhile zamindari era, which coincided with the times when legendary sweets like the ledikeni were invented, and revisit the fascinating stories of the time," says Sen.
Interestingly, the 19th century, an exciting era marked by reform and innovation, was also when Kolkata saw the mushrooming of sweet shops that bred and nurtured the city’s unparalleled love for sweets. The city, declared the capital of British India in 1833, was the centre of all the action. Thousands—from landed gentry who built their palatial mansions across the city to rural artisans looking for work—flocked to the city to try their fortune, and the moiras (traditional confectioners of Bengal) from the surrounding districts were no exception. These sweetshops were also veritable seats of culinary experiments where the city’s master confectioners regularly invented imaginative new sweets.
Kolkata’s iconic sweetshops have come a long way since. And the Misti Hub is a milestone on that journey. It is not only a one-stop sweetmeat destination, but also a well-rounded experience steeped in story-telling. Besides, its strategic proximity to the airport makes it a gateway for international tourists and visitors to the city. “An increasing number of people travelling abroad pick up sweets from our counter at the Misti Hub on their way to the airport," says Tapan Kumar Das, one of the owners of Nalin Chandra Das & Sons. Since opening shop at the Misti Hub, Das has introduced sturdy packaging to ensure his sweets travel well.