When you land in Kolkata, you may miss its legendary Howrah Bridge or the incandescent steps of the ferry on the Ganges, but you cannot miss the smell of the delicious sweets. Bengal is known as a place to see Royal Tigers and for the irresistible sweet tooth, often being pronounced together.
Greater Bengal, both Bangladesh (East) and West Bengal (in India) have their own unique styles of making sugar syrups, whether with the freshly-procured jaggery in the winters, extracted from the tall palm trees of the villages, or with the delicately flavored syrups, fusing the warm ball of milk with rose, gulkand or chocolate for a distinct Western touch. All of these creations are often distinctive, based on the halwais or Makers with their secret recipes handed over across generations. Here are the best sweets to try in Kolkata.
Best Sweets to Try in Kolkata
Made with curdled milk or chhana, this sweet has an astonishing history up its sleeve. First mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit text Manasollasa (12th Century), it was first created in Bengal by the famous confectioner Bhim Chandra Nag to commemorate Lady Canning’s arrival in India with her husband, the then Governor General, Lord Canning.
With its oozing syrup and the succulent deep-fried dough, Ladikeni became a favorite among the young and old. The name was a colloquial transition by the admiring public, who still demand the same Mishti (Sweet) from the shop, set up in 1826 in the bustling Bowbazar area. Designated as a hallmark of the Bengali populace, this dish stands at the end of all celebratory dinner courses, signifying victory and prosperity.
Although there is still an ongoing contention in regard to its originality, Rosogolla, or the heart of the Bengali, is believed to have been invented in Bangladesh (17th Century) and carried over by Nabin Chandra Das (1868), who popularized it across the border. Simply, chhena is prepared from boiled raw milk and coagulated in a cheese-making procedure with agents such as rennet, lemon or other plant-based enzymes. The excess whey, taken out and drained on a muslin cloth, is separated. The lukewarm chhana is then transferred into a round wooden plate called barkosh, kneaded and boiled in the syrup, until the balls fluff up and enlarge to fill our mouths.
It is not an exaggeration when they say that it is like a warm pillow. Rosogolla has been re-created and presented in several innovative ways across the country but the good old Bengali Classic never wishes to share its throne. Across the street, you hear cries of “Dada, ektu gorom dekhe deben!” (“Brother, please see to it that you serve them hot!”) and thus you know you are at the right place.
3. Jolbhora Sandesh
Bengal believes in catering to the core of all traditional sweets and you get a signature juicy center of the delectable Jolbhora. In a warm, gooey fudge of the irrevocable cottage cheese outfit, the liquid jaggery, often like a cake of lava, bursts into your mouth! Jol means ‘water’ and bhora is ‘filled’, so the name may deceive you. But try it with a friend who has no clue about the surprise and let him shriek with laughter.
Kolkata is euphemistically known by the name “City of Joy” and we surely see why! This dish is most preferred in weddings and honorary occasions, where the royalty of this dish astounds the guests. Created by Surjya Kumar Modak back in 1818, it is also called Talshnash sondesh, owing to its shape of a palm fruit, a tribute to the jaggery extracted.
This dish is so popular across Bengal, especially in suburban regions like Burdwan (its origin), that an entire area is dedicated to it! The place, called Shaktigarh, on the way to Siliguri has a whole range of ancestral shops called Lyangcha Mahal, Lyangcha Palace, Aroma Special Lyangcha, Lyangcha Plaza and Lyangcha Hut! The real battle is around who creates the best of the lot, and the answer is not easy!
Made in a cylindrical shape, it is a mixture of khoya (solid milk) or milk powder and flour, made into a dough with soda and water. It is deep-fried until the crust is deep brown and hard, so much so that it is often dipped into an elaichi (cardamom) for a tinge of flavor. This sweet had the superpower to bring forth the Krishnanagar and Burdwan Royalties into matrimonial alliance. The married Princess, when pregnant, refused to eat anything but Lyangcha, and we surely understand why!
Also known as Bonde or Nukti, this dish can be identified by the color of the morning sun and the small fish-egg shapes. Crispy on the outside and inertly soft, it is borrowed from the Northern regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar, where chickpea and turmeric grow in abundance. Alongside these two main ingredients, baking powder is added and poured into a sizzling pan of syrup. This can be served with yogurt (as a refresher) or added into savory dishes like pulao for a crunchy variety on the bud.
It is called ‘boondi’, designating ‘drops’ but is also said to be derived from the Rajasthani tribal chieftain by the name Bunda Meena, who conquered the region and dominated it with the Meena tribe, also founding the Bundi State.
Now served for good luck on birthdays or reception ceremonies, Payesh was created in the rosa shala or kitchens of the Jagannath Temples as an offering to the deity, almost 2000 years ago. In the Ayurvedic tradition, it has been called the ‘happy food’.
Commonly made with coconut milk as the base, it is experimented in different capacities with jaggery, nuts, soaked rice, sago, vermicelli, wheat, or poppy seeds. Its Persian origins are clear from the name ‘Gil-e-Firdaus’ or what Prophet Muhammad called ‘made by the angels’. Spreading all the way to Europe, this dish serves as a wholesome meal in itself, sweetened with condensed milk and frozen as a pudding. Payasam or its variant in South India is served on the auspicious day of Onam, the festival that ends the monsoon season and ushers in the harvest.
Hope you enjoyed these best sweets to try in Kolkata. Have you tried any? Which are your favorites? Tell us in the comments below: