If someone talks about the food culture of Kolkata, or rather Bengal, sweets are something that can claim the spotlight. I personally believe (and I’m open to debate) that Bengal has got the most varied sweets lineup in India. And being the capital of the state, Kolkata needs to be discussed. But in Kolkata, which are the old sweet shops in the city? Here is the story of Makhan Lal Das – since 1824.
In around 1820’s a gentleman, Moira Ramchandra Das, arrived in Kolkata from Debrajhat village in Bardhaman-Khandagoshi and started selling sweets in Pathuriaghata market. Time changed and today that establishment is handled by his 6th generation and is one of the oldest sweet shops in Kolkata- Makhan lal Das and sons.
When the Portuguese landed in India in the sixteenth century, we get the first mention of something named as cottage cheese. But the question is, didn’t we eat sweets before that? We still get a mention of various sweets before that era- namely, “Dudh Lau/ Monda and Dudh-chire. The natural sweetener of milk was being used as the sweetener. Because, please remember, granulated sugar was introduced to Kolkata by that chinaman, Mr. Tong Achew. The Portuguese enriched us with their various types of cheese, and we got them in primarily, 3 varieties- Chhana/ the pungent Bandel Cheese and Bangladeshi Ponir. Murshidabad/ Burdwan/ Bishnupur from India and Dhaka/ Nator became the pioneer of sweets of Bengal- undivided Bengal.
If you’re familiar with North Kolkata, you’ll know about this place called Notun Bazar beside Rabindra Sarani tram line. Now, Rabindra Sarani is one of the oldest roads in Kolkata. There is a very old market named Notun Bazar. And once you enter the place, you need to take the first left lane, or even easier, ask anyone. they’ll guide you to Makhan Lal Das. Honestly, the shop is super unimpressive. It’s just a long counter on the lane. But there’s a catch. They do not prepare a Sandesh for more than 10-15 pcs and that’s mainly for showcasing the offering. Once the order comes, they prepare the Sandesh in front of you and hand it over. They deliver via Swiggy and hence, life got easier.
My friend Kaushik Majumdar says the name Sandesh is mentioned in medieval Bengali literature, including Krittibas’ Ramayana and lyrics of Chaitanya. But the ingredient is not known. Probably it was NOT made from cottage cheese as the Vaisnobs and Brahmins considered it an impure form of milk. In Bengal, the present form of Sandesh from cottage cheese was made famous by three confectioners, BholaMaira (1775-1851), Bhim Nag (1809-1885), and Girish Chandra Dey. Jatindramohan Dutta once listed various types of Sandesh, that were prevalent in various places Bengal in the early twentieth century. The list was like this
- Gnufo Sandesh of Panihati
- Ramchaki Sandesh of Sodpur
- Kanchagolla of Santipore
- Sorer Naru of Poradaha
- Manohara of Janai( has got a fine history). For preservation the Sandesh was dipped into sugar juice)
- Aam Sandesh of BhutoMaira from Ariadaha
- Talsans of Chandannagar
- JolbhoraTalsans of Simulia and Bhdreswar
- KopatBhangaKorapak of Madan Maira
- Korapak of Simle
- BatabiSondesh of Jorasanko
- Green Mango Sandesh
- Egg Sandesh
- Half egg Sandesh
- Biscuit Sandesh
- Chop Sandesh
- Ata Sandesh
- Chocolate Sandesh
- Ice cream Sandesh.
Back to Makhan Lal Moyra
The good thing about these old-school shop owners are, they’re nice to you, till YOU do not show any attitude. So, when I go and get into the adda mode, lots of stories come out. And secondly, they try to kill you by feeding sweets like your seniors at home. Äre, apnar to kom boyes, ei tuku khaben na ?” And two sandesh are handed over to you. And there are multiple varieties. Personally, I am not really fond of their chocolate and mango variety, but the traditional kanchagolla is my favorite.
My personal take
Is this the best sweet shop in Kolkata? I personally doubt.
Do they produce the best Sandesh in town? I’ve tasted better.
But what makes this place special, is that it’s a part of Kolkata legacy and history. As per me, history is not only that old architecture. Not to demean them, but for me, history is also a tangible slice of time, which we can touch even today. And that’s why a food or culinary discussion is inevitable. They still are adamant about the age-old traditional process of the sweet-making process and use the wooden dice for making Sandesh. Automation is still not implemented and an old-age air still is there. And thus, Makhan Lal Das, which is going to experience two centuries, is relevant even today.
Do visit them and let me know your experience there. Help for this article has been taken from the original website of the shop:
Makhan Lal Das & Sons Details:
- 313, Rabindra Sarani, Company Bagan, Balaka Natun Bazar, Jorabagan Kolkata West Bengal 700006, 18B, Lake View Rd, Kolkata, West Bengal 700029
- 18B, Lake View Road, Kolkata- 700029. (Near Ballygunge Cultural Association). 033 40728182
- Phone number: +91 92391 52412 / +91 93309 57660
Bon appetit !!!
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