Looking beyond Bengal, the traditional, family-based industry is now talking of export markets and patents—terms unheard of in the past. But before plotting their moves to create an international market, or perhaps simultaneously, they are concentrating on tapping a ready market in other parts of the country.The new market reality has resulted in a change in the character of Bengali sweets. Generally made of sweetened cottage cheese (chhena), reduced solidified milk (khoya), or flours of different cereals and pulses, the delicacies now come with a blend of nuts, pistachio, rose water and cardamom. Not just that, the enterprising sweet makers are adding a dash of some internationallypreferred flavours like black current, kiwi and strawberry to the desi spread. Says Rabindra Kumar Paul, General Secretary of West Bengal Sweetmeat Makers’ Association and Director of Hindustan Sweets: “Besides people of Asian origin, Americans and Europeans are our potential customers. The new avatar of sweets will help in effectively marketing the products and convince the overseas market of the nutritional value of either a sandesh or a rasogolla compared to pastry, which is full of empty calories.”
So you have Alphanso Dahi from Balaram; Black Currant Sandesh/Kiwi Sandesh/Strawberry Rabri from Nokur; Strawberry Rasogolla from Gupta’s; Tulsi Doi and Tulsi Sandesh from Hindustan Sweets; and Soya Roll, Rosecream Peshwari, Orange Dahi from K.C. Das. The hot favourite at the moment? Malpoa with brandy sauce, especially at the opulent parties.
Film maestro Satyajit Ray was a regular visitor to Nokur, so are his son Sandip Ray and Tollywood director Rituparno Ghosh, often billed as Ray’s protégé. Singer Manna Dey has a sweet tooth; so do actors Vidya Balan, Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. “Bengali sweets are now travelling beyond Bengal. This recent gourmet trend is aimed at keeping sweets of Bengal contemporary and relevant to younger people,” says Prashanta Nundy of Nokur. Therefore, to tempt the new palate, the 165-yearold Nokur is adding new flavours—orange, pineapple, mango lichi, black currant and kiwi—to its sandesh. Nokur already ‘exports’ its sweets to various parts of the country and abroad, from its base in North Kolkata’s Hedua.K.C. Das, arguably the most popular brand of Bengali sweets (particularly for its canned rasogollas), is also keen on tapping this market, albeit more aggressively as is clear from its retail spread—five shops in Kolkata, as many as nine in Bangalore and one shop in Mysore. From a humble beginning in a tiny, obscure corner of Baghbazar in North Kolkata way back in 1866, the rasogolla maker is now offering Golapi Pera, Rosecream Peshwari, Sandesh Cake, Soya Roll, Keshar Dahi and Orange Dahi to cater to contemporary palates.
So, would the fusion sweets mark the end of the good ol’ mishti? A vehement no comes from the sweet makers. “We have come up with items like Carrot Rasogolla, Soya Rasogolla, Tulsi Rasogolla, and the responses have been overwhelming. It doesn’t mean we have done away with the traditional sweets,” says Paul.
The next course? Sweet makers are now taking steps to integrate traditional and modern methods of production. K.C. Das is carrying on research at its southern unit in Bangalore to improve the flavour of its prime product, the rasogolla.
Aiding these efforts is Jadavpur University, where scientists are trying to evolve standardised procedures to be followed by the sweet makers. “This apart, Kalyani University, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and IIT-Kharagpur are helping us with their researchbased findings to develop new sweets that are healthy,” says Paul of West Bengal Sweetmeat Makers Association, which has more than 100,000 members. By all accounts, the unassuming mishti is going places and is well on its way to become a global epicurean delight.