childhood is a strange thing. So many items remain there sketched as a voice, as a memory. When I was a kid, Naren da used to come to our Bhowanipore house (with that box and degchi on his head) shouting “Moa chai, Joynagar er moa, nolen patali gurrrrrrr “. Now today, I don’t even remember whether or at which quantity our family used to purchase from him, but winter used to be incomplete without that voice. And, when I grew up, I faced a battle ….. Joynagar er moa – is it from Joynagar ? Who invented it? Where did Baharu feature there? And, the inquisitive me started digging …..
What’s the fuss about Joynagar moa?
So, what is Moa ? And why such a fuss over joynagar moa? Let’s see. There is a special variety of Paddy called Kanakchur and which grows around the Jayanagar / Baharu region. When khoi is made from this paddy and mixed with the fresh seasonal nolen gur- its called the lump. This lump is mixed with khoya, cashew nut, raisins and pista and off course ghee…. and moa is borne.
Moa doesn’t have a loud presence like Sandesh or rasogolla. It hides from others and the best quality is available just maybe for 1 month. I am talking about the original staff here. the production is restricted with getting a good quality Gur or jaggery. The difference between an authentic and general moa is the use of original good quality jaggery or the essence of it. With the diminishing availability of good jaggery, getting a good moa is getting difficult by the day.
This winter, I got a call from Sagar da to join him on a moa hunt in Baharu and Jayanagar. And, no self-respecting bong could deny that call. So, off we went on a moa-trail one winter morning via lakshikantapur local from Sealdah. Baharu is the station before Jayanagar and takes around 1+ hour from Sealdah. Car route goes via Baruipur and is pretty bumpy and crowded. Though it’ll be an extremely crowded train journey, still, on any given day, traveling via the local train is recommended.
Petai Parota on breakfast
Once, you get down at Baharu, go out via platform No 1, and ask any toto or van to take you to Shyamsundar Mishtanna Bhandar. They’ll charge you 10/- per head. But, let me warn you, before you start, please finish your breakfast. Petai Parota is available in numerous shops outside and it’ll be an experience to witness the poor parota getting beaten like anything.
During the season time, almost every shop in the Baharu/ Jayanagar area sells Moa. You can find shops selling hardware inside and at the outside, one makeshift pandal is constructed and moa is sold. Avoid them and go for Shyamsundar. Shyamsundar Sweets is situated in Baharu Bazaar and is around 40 years old. This shop also has managed to receive a GI certification for its moa.
The shop is a small one but you can locate it by the throbbing crowd it manages. The owner, Ranjit Kr Ghosh and his brother Bablu Ghosh makes it a point to manage the crowd.
Now, either by watching us record our experience or by the virtue of our grey hair, Mr Ghosh allowed us to visit his factory on the first floor. I won’t talk about the hygiene , but that’s the case with probably all the good heritage food joints across the globe. The jaggery is cooked till its of two-strings consistency and mixed in the khoi. On another hand, the buffalo milk is churned to make khoya. Both are mixed by hand and with pista powder, broken cashew and raisins and the Moa is prepared. This shop is said to been producing around 12,000 pieces (yes, you read it right) of moa daily during season time.
The ground floor serves as the sales counter. The moa is available in three varieties based on the quality and are priced at 250, 300 and 340 per kg. Differentiator is the amount of khoya / ghee and dry fruits. One can check the certificate proudly displayed here.
And Joynagar moa
So, once the Baharu expedition is over, we headed for Joynagar- and in fact, to their oldest shop (started in 1929) , Srikrishna Mishtanna Bhandar. As the story goes, in the first half of nineteenth century, joynagar moa was a rustic sweets. And, villagers used to sell it in the local markets, or popularly known as Hath. Now, around 1929, Mr Purnachandra Ghosh and Mr Nityagopal Sarkar thought of selling this item in a proper manner and basically giving it a proper branding. And, thus, Srikrishna Sweets was borne in 1929. Nickname of Mr Sarkar was “Buchki” and that moa was called as “Buchkir Moa”- which later got the name as Joynagar er Moa.
Now, If someone comes out of Joynagar station platform no 2 and walks straight, he/ she’ll hit a T-junction and at the crossing, lies this shop. As compared to Shyamsundar Sweets, it’s a pretty small one, but churns out appr 20,000 pcs of Moa per day in season time, as per current owner Mr Ashok Ghosh. The moa is rich in khoya , cashewnut and pista as opposed to Baharu, where the taste of jaggery dominates. As usual, there are three varieties, and the best quality is available at 300/- a kg (appr 20 pcs come in a kg).
You can check a small interview of the owner Sri krishna Shop here
And, our last stop, purely from local pressure, was Ramsrishna Sweets, the new comparatively new entrant, and locally most popular Moa shop. The owner Mr. Ashok Kayal, heads the Jayanagar Moa Nirmankari Samity and pretty well connected. The pricing also is pretty high, the highest variety being at 450/- a kg. This shop is just 200 meters from The Sri Krishna Mishtana Bhandar, towards left. You can check the location and a brief intro here.
My final verdict
And, this was our final journey into the Moa kingdom of West Bengal. My final verdict is that, while the specialty of Baharu variety of moa is their emphasis on nolen gur, the Joynagar moa variety gives more emphasis on the khoya, cashewnut, raisin and pista. Now, finally, it’s the taker’s call the decide his/ her preference. Personally, I’d go for the Baharu variety. But, all said and done, it remains a big question mark on how things will go on. The supply line of good khejur gur variety is dying and this industry is banking heavily on governmental intervention. While talks of a moa hub are going on in the air, that is more on the sales angle. But, the raw material/ production line needs to be taken care off, else, very soon, all that will remain of this industry, is few online links and blogs. Let’s hope things take a better turn in near future.