The (infamous) scorching summer in Bengal was just settling in when we decided to go on a sweet hunt. It was a day trip- first to Krishnanagar for Sarbhaja and Sarpuria, and then on the way back, to Ranaghat- for Pantua. Jagu Mayra is said to be one of the cult shops for Pantua in Ranaghat and Adarsha Hindu Hotel (yes, the same on immortalized by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay in his novel of the same name) lied there.
Firstly, let me thank Mr. Haripada Bhowmik from whom I’ve got this information below
The origin of the word Pantua is a bit unclear. Few say, it’s taken from the word Panitua, whereas others say, it’s from the word Panitoba. “Toba” means down. So, the sweet that sinks to the bottom of the light sugar syrup, is named as the same. The word or rather the concept can be found in ancient Sanskrit literature and even in Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita.
Rice flour was mashed with chhena and ghee and milk was stuffed in. And the same was known as “Dugdhakupika”. As the preparation process is similar to Pantua, hence, it can be called as the Great Great grandfather of modern-day Pantua. During mid-nineteenth century write-up of a grand feast, mention of Pantua can be found.
To cut a long story short, Pantua is a fried sweet which is dipped in sugar syrup. for me, a good pantua should have the outer crust light and inside should be fluffy.
Jagu Mayra shop
Frankly, it’s one of those shops, which you won’t even look back twice if you pass by it. Most unimpressive exterior and the landmark is D. N Mitra Studio. The shop is just beside the Ranaghat station and the road is super crowded and unless you’re driving somebody else’s car, taking it is never recommended. We left our car near the Ranaghat highway and took a local toto there. When we asked the locals about the shop, they were very helpful. One gentleman even fixed and negotiated one toto for us.
However, in the unimpressive shop, we straightway went for the Pantua. The gentleman was slightly taken aback by the sight of two middle-aged urban men getting in the shop and clicking pics like there was no tomorrow. However, we soon found out that he didn’t know much about the past glory of the shop and it was useless to disturb him.
But I must say when we took the first bite into the Pantua, eyes got closed themselves. It was not a kheer Pantua like Bankura or Siuri, but the perfect exterior casing and soft chhena inside made it a treat worth traveling for. Unlike its round-shaped counterparts in Kolkata, it was slightly oval in shape. And priced at 10/- a piece, it was definitely a steal. I am frankly not very sure of how long they can maintain the standard, but as of now, the pantua there is simply superb.
and just to note. The pantua here is of this particular shape, and not the round one served elsewhere. And it’s definitely not a Lyangcha.
Adarsha Hindu hotel
I guess any book-loving Bong has read the immortal Adarsha Hindu hotel written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. The protagonist, Hajari Thakur used to be a culinary artist and many of the small details mentioned in the book, are still relevant. I still wish that some restaurant puts up a resting room, where the guests can rest for some time after a meal. But whatever, like many a good thing, it’s just a fiction.
Till recent times, I was under the impression that it’s a fictional pice hotel, like many other plots. But when Sagar Da told me that the place exists in reality and it’s at a stone-throw distance from the Pantua shop Jagu Mayra, the place for lunch was confirmed.
Adarsha Hindu Hotel is on the first floor, located above the Bata Showroom, just opposite to the Ranaghat Station main entrance. As usual, the entrance is kinda scary and it feels like one is entering into an abandoned house. Please don’t get me wrong, there are shops on the ground floor, but I am talking about the arch door. But once you reach the first floor, it’s a well-lit proper restaurant. I am sure that you know the rules for a pice hotel and if not, you can check it here. So obey the rules and get yourself a table.
(what) to eat or not to eat …
Please order the rice and Dal of the day. On the day we went, it was mug Dal. Now I strongly believe that cooking a good Dal decides the culinary skills of a cook. And I must say, this dal in this rural township was one of the finer examples. It was simply perfect. few raisins and a light aroma of ghee, not overpowering the basic taste, it was pure love.
The Sukto was also great. Cooking a good vegetarian dish like shukto or chochori is something that differentiates a good cook from the average cook. Different varieties of veggies need to be put in the right time so that they complement each other, yet maintain individual shapes and taste. The Bori or Dal dumpling needs to be in intact shape, yet they should lend their typical flavors to the dish. This dish here almost made me sentimental.
We took Aar fish- a light jhol with one piece of potato. Now, I am slightly skeptic in ordering fish curry from any Bengali restaurant. The reason is pretty simple. Firstly, most of them cut the potato in a wrong way, rather in a homogeneous manner and secondly, they put either mustard or onion- even in a Jhol. But this beauty was the perfect example of what it’s supposed to be. Hand-pasted cumin was and subtlety was the differentiator. It was brilliant. The next dish was mutton curry. But after the Aar Jhol, it frankly, didn’t stand a chance.
Overall, it was a lovely meal and we could barely get up from the chair. The total bill amount for 3 hungry souls was a meager 520/- (with Sagar da and myself savoring fish and mutton). Frankly, we didn’t bother having the dessert. The Pantua was waiting for us.
It was a very successful road trip- the quest for the Sweets Of Bengal is what I am calling it. We don’t even know which sweets will stand the test of time and will be there after a decade. But it’s our quest for the same, that’s keeping us alive.
If you have any local specialty sweets, please let me know in the comments section.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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