Notun Gurer Sandesh a seasonal delight

Team Chronicle

Sandesh, the quintessential Bengali delight is often the choice to soothe the sweet tooth of any Bengali mortal. Over the years there have been thousands of varieties of sandesh which have caught the fancy of sweet lovers. Some perished in the course of time while some others are resisting the onslaught of time- somehow finding a way to impress upon their connoisseurs with the same delight that may have been evoked when their grandparents brought home a packet of the same sweet sensation. Failing to mention the mouth watering nolen gurer sandesh in this context is like performing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

The scent of notun gur is something that wafts like a promise in the winter air. The urban populace might be unaware of the gur jaal process that goes into making the solid chunks of nolen gur which in turn is mixed with chena (cottage cheese made from fermented milk) to roll out various forms of sandesh. The city dwellers are though not much bothered about how the gur is prepared. They prefer to concentrate on delectable taste of the korapaak or norompaak varieties of sandesh.

What you see on display counters of sweet shops are through the results of a strenuous chain of events that originates when the winter chill makes the sap of a palm tree sweeter. Once collected it is processed into gur and made ready for sweet production. This is an art in itself, but that’s another story. We would instead concentrate on addition of gur to the chena to roll out delicacies that captivate the sense of taste like no other.

Nolen gurer sandesh is normally found in two avatars- korapaak and norompaak. To a layman, the hardened version (sometime with a delicious cavity filled with liquid gur) is the korapaak sandesh, which does have a longer shelf life. The other version, norompaaker sandesh is the softer sibling. The real distinction between korapaak and norompaak, however, lies in the difference in method of preparation.

A visit to a production unit of a confectionary gives you a delightful insight in the making of paaker mishti. The making of sandesh is an intricate affair- often requiring the skill of seasoned moiras to give shape to the uniquely contoured design. The process of making gurer sandesh starts early in the morning with procurement of fresh gur, considered ideal for the paak. The paak or the phenomenon of mixing gur with chena is a skill that’s well preserved by the Bengali sweet makers. Paak or the stirring of the gooey mix does last for 25 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the nature of the sandesh and is often a rigorous affair. There are though certain subtle elements in the process of paak that differentiates a norompaak and korapaak sandesh. Next comes the moulds which give shape to the gooey mix of gur and chena – for it to dry and attain the required hardness and texture.

A Bengali proverb, “jerom gur serom misti”, is quite apt here since the quality of gur inevitably defines the taste and texture of nolen gurer sandesh. The big retailers don’t compromise on quality though as each morning truckloads of fresh gur are delivered to various parts of Calcutta. Apart from many local vendors, gurs from Bangladesh, Basirhat and Nadia district are much in demand.

Over the years, the form and figure of nolen gurer sandesh has undergone a sea change. The early versions of nolen gurer sandesh might have been restricted to korapaak, taal shash, or saakh sandesh, but in recent times there have been much experimentation with the form if not the content. The results are quite fruitful; with the retail outlets coming up with newer varieties of gurer sandesh – some bearing names as flamboyant as amrito munda, notun gurer moushumi or gurer tip sandesh. The customers are not complaining though – for they are willing to shell out for genuine taste.

Yes, the sweet toothed Bengalis do know about the best on offer. And Calcutta’s cosmopolitan crowd is also adept in queuing up for the seasonal delight, jolbhora korapaaker sandesh.

The season of nolen gurer sandesh does starts after Kalipuja when the early winter chill sets in. The season continues with jest till the end February or mid March. “During peak season nolen gurer sandesh outscores other varieties by far” remarked an old staff of famous confectioner Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick. In other words, retailers have to stock up for gur to meet the demand. “We require 300 kgs of gur per day on an average and has to be sourced from different vendors” he added. It’s also a testimony to sandesh’s demand that each day’s production goes off the shelf pretty fast. “Though the korapaak sandesh has a much longer shelf life, they sell off the counter pretty fast and are replenished with fresh stock every day”, said a staff member of the renowned Girish Chandra Dey & Co.