Äre you getting lazy on your “Sweets Of Bengal” series”? Somebody asked me- shyly, coyly. And I was looking for a space to hide my face. I couldn’t deny the fact fully. Us, Bengalis are known to be sweet- well, Sweet tooth among many other things. Jokes apart, the sheer variety of the Sweets Of Bengal is very very rare to find in India, at least. so, in this sweets of Bengal series, I am trying to document sweets from different districts of Bengal. And once someone is in Bankura, the strange sweets named Mecha Sandesh is definitely something not to be missed.
The region of present Bankura and Birbhum was called as Mallabhum earlier. The reason being, the Malla Kings of Bishnupur were called Mallas and the ruling period was from 7th century AD till the beginning of the British rule in India. But let me stop you right here and confess. I am not a student of history and if there are any wrong dates, please do not kill me. Mallas are known for architecture and classical music. The terracotta temples of Bishnupur is a sign of their legacy.
Now, the folklore goes like this. Around the seventeenth century, there was a shortage of milk in the dry part of Bengal. But it was impossible for the Malla kings to carry on without the sweet dishes in their royal meals. and it is at this point of time, some unknown culinary artist prepared a dessert with the powdered gram flour and was named as Mecha Sandesh. During the era of 1625-1635, the popularity of these sweets was established. Please check this blog post for further info.
Also, another story goes like, there used to be a village fair named “Baba Dhormodaser Mela” and Gur/ Jaggery Sandesh was a huge hit there. But to preserve it for a longer period, a sugar coating was given to it (pun intended, definitely) by late Girish chandra Modak. Please note, I’ve heard these stories and I won’t be able to furnish any proof to support them.
But why it is Beliatore
In the old days, there used to flood in the Beliatore region and as a result, in places, there used to be small sand-hills. Sand is called as “Balu” in Bengali. So, a village on “Balu r tot” became “Balutoti” and gradually Balutore. And Balutore became Beliatore, which is the current name.
Back to current days
We were returning from our weekend trip at Mukutmanipur, while we crossed this place called Beliatore. And being a glutton, the name immediately struck a chord with me. Isn’t it the same place, where the famous Mecha Sandesh was invented? Damn the driving time, we had to taste it. A few calls here and there, guidance from Jayanta da from Kalika Mishtanna Bhandar Bankura and we entered the shop named Mecha Mahal.
Let me confess, Beliatore is a village. And we actually laughed at the name “Mecha Mahal”, on our way to Mukutmanipur. That typical urban snobbishness, you know … But it so happened that this shop is producing mecha Sandesh since their 5 generations and even a very conservative calculation says, it’s older than 180+ years. The interior os clean but shabby and it’s bang on the main road. But, please do not go by the looks. Get in and enjoy the surprise.
Regarding Mecha Sandesh
Chana Dal or Split Bengal Gram is powdered inside the shop and a besan is prepared from it. The besan is fried into Gathiya and the Gathiya is powdered again. It’s then cooked with kheer and sugar into lumps. The lump is mashed with ghee and green cardamom into small roundels or Laddus. the laddus are dipped in the sugar syrup and dried on sal leaves. Behold, the mecha sandesh is ready for consumption.
If you do not have some sky-high expectations, the Mecha Sandesh is pretty good stuff. I mean, it’s a variation of Besan Laddu, dipped in sugar syrup and it really can’t go wrong. Mecha Sandesh can be kept safely for 15 days outside a refrigerator. As the sugar layer will melt into syrup, it should not be refrigerated. Today, they produce around 1000 pcs a day (as I was told) and sends it to places outside Bengal like Delhi, Mumbai or even London. It’s the sad story that being in Kolkata, we know so less about these sweets, but trust me- it’s worth the hype. P.S: they are priced at 7/- and 10/- a pc depending on the size of the roundel.
BTW, I personally liked them without the sugar coating, but at that point in production, they’re not for sale.
Tana Naru and Boondir Naru
We stopped at the place for Mecha Sandesh, so the expectation was pretty much set. But what they were selling at the adjacent shop was literally unexpected. Imagine a sweet, with a savory inside and sweet outside. And it’s just the thing with this Tana Naru. Besan Gathiya is made and it’s lumped with Bheligur into roundels. Similarly, dry Boondi is made from the split Bengal Gram or Chana Dal and Boondir Naru are made. They are priced at 3/- (and I am not joking) apiece and are definitely a treat.
I was told that it’s a very very regular affair in Bankura, Bishnupur and even at some parts of Purulia to have these after the Durgapuja. In fact, somebody told me that the Western part of Bankura (like Simlipal and Taldanga) are champions of this product. Now, I am not very sure whether they use the Nolen Gur instead of Bheligur during winter or not, but this balance of taste is what sets this humble homely product apart from other sweets.
The shop is a pretty humble one and you might even call it a shack, but products speak for themselves. They also made a beautifully finished phool khaja, but I was told that it’s made with prior order. And if you tend to go to that side, please do try these sweets.
Sweets of Bengal is a pretty exhaustive topic and I doubt how much I’ll be able to document. The more I am getting into this, new avenues for learning are opening up to me. even I am sure that many of these heritage sweets will be lost in time, within a few years. so, it’s high time for us to at least document them. But if you know any traditional/ heritage sweets from your region, please update me in the comments section. It’ll help me immensely.
And the roadside lunch
Before I end this blog post, I must mention the fabulous lunch that we had in this underrated restaurant near Beliatore itself, Borjora to be precise. In fact, we got the reference from the Mecha Mahal. It’s a regular roadside restaurant with a decent sitting arrangement and an almost clean toilet. They served us thalis. The idea is, you get the veg thali, which consisted of Basmati rice, a thick musoor dal, hot brinjal roundel fry, 2 types of Sabzi, achaar (god knows why) and curd. We took chicken curry and pomfret along with it. And a meal for 9 cost us around 1600/-. The thali items are unlimited and can be asked to be refilled.
The food was hot, fresh and damn tasty. And it explains why the restaurant in a near village was almost full during lunch. If you pass through the place, ask anyone local or the place and they’ll guide you to the place.
Bon apetit !!!
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