Lahana Ghosh’s Literary Festival Spotlights Bengal’s Mishti Karigari
- Ayandrali Dutta
Updated : June 17, 2022 13:06 IST
Lahana Ghosh dreams to help revive the karigari and make mishti making a much orgnaised industry in Bengal.
A Canadian citizen of Indian origin, Lahana Ghosh is all set to break the last remaining bastions of male dominance - the mishti making industry. Born in Kolkata, Lahana belongs to the family which owns the iconic mishti brand Jugal's. As part of its centenary year celebrations, Lahana will for the first time in history open up its iconic kitchen to women. Traditional mishti making has been a man's domain over generations. Lahana has decided to train women - whoever wants to - in the delicate art of making mishit.
Born visionary, Lahana is all set to bring wage equity for the Karigars. She strongly believes that authenticity is the key!
You have been working towards karigars or craftsmen – amongst both genders getting equal credit and pay. Tell us something about it?
Mishti is meant to be handcrafted and in this profession we surely she a huge gender gap. We cannot talk about wage equity without representation. We have next to negligible female representation not only in the Mishti Industry of Bengali. I am trying to change that by bringing wage equity for the Karigars. It is important to note that this industry is heavily unorganized. Hiring, training and retaining women in a male dominated sector has its own challenges. It is still work in progress and I am positive I will eventually overcome them. My dream is to help revive the Karigari. Making a misti to perfection takes immense skill and years of training to understand milk, its texture, how it works with different elements. Handling sandesh is an art itself; and that must be preserved. We at Jugal’s provide higher than industry standard in Kolkata but we are still behind and a lot of work needs to be done. Our Head Karigar makes Rs 900 a but weirdly no culinary school graduate would want to come and work at a Mishti Karkhana cause it is not fancy enough.
Belonging to the family of iconic mishti brand Jugal's what do you think of the evolving Mishti culture of Bengal?
I think Mishti(not Mithai) meaning Bengali(not Indian) Desserts is a very unique dessert category. The core ingredient of this dessert category is a type of cheese, china or cottage cheese. There is nothing like this anywhere in the world where you turn two humble ingredients, milk and sugar, into cheese, which is then used as a base for close to a hundred varieties of sweets everyday. This process is extremely tedious and time consuming and requires highly skilled Karigar. A single tray of Sandesh taken an entire day to make, so does the mishti Doi, and everything else. There is not only processes involved but it
A literary festival on mishti sounds unique. What triggered the idea?
This one-of-a-kind event was not only one of the world’s first literary festivals on mishti (or sweets), but was also among the first literary fests on food. There are certain food items that are enjoyed beyond boundaries - like how an American relishes Butter Chicken and an Indian enjoys burgers and fries. When we eat biryani, more than its origin we enjoy the taste of it. The goal of this festival was to start a conversation on how different cultures have influenced our food, sustenance and how we have accepted and incorporated those influences into our food without any complaint. These influences on our cuisine must be documented, so that we do not forget the fact that we are humans first.
Mishti has been a part of our culture for thousands of years. For example, the earliest reference to malpuya, a deep-fried pancake soaked in syrup, goes back 3,500 years to the Rig Veda, where it’s called apupa. Over the centuries, apupa incorporated many more cultural influences and was embraced by different faiths. A version of this dessert, with eggs and mawa, was a popular sweet in Islamic courts. In Odisha’s famous Jagannath temple at Puri, malpua is still the early morning offering to lord Jagannath. This tradition dates back to 1,200 AD. The influence of Europe and Middle Easterners on our cuisine has been massive. The concept of chenna (curdled milk) was not considered auspicious, as it’s spoiled milk. The emergence of mishti, which is primarily made from chenna, was only possible because of the Portuguese settlers. They introduced cheese-making techniques that involve curdled milk and then the Bengalis started incorporating the technique into their quintessential sandesh and rosogolla. The origin and making of Bandel cheese, chenna pora and others are the kind of things we want to discuss at the litfest.
I feel that food writers and critics have not been doing enough to help preserve the sanctity of mishti making. It’s an art. Mishti-makers use raw milk and sugar, two humble ingredients that are turned into different textures and shapes. The amount of effort, time and skill required to make mishti is underestimated. The process is exceptionally tedious.
Making sandesh from scratch involves pasteurising raw milk, curdling it, scoring and draining the chenna, preparing the pak with different ingredients, and then finishing the process on the pata by giving them the shape - called Sandesh Badha. It takes an entire day to make a single tray of sandesh. And that is just one item. Every mishtiwala makes nearly hundred items every day. It takes immense skill and years of training to understand milk, its texture and how it works with different elements. The handling of sandesh is an art in itself. It is a beautiful process to watch and witness. Sitting on the pata, sandesh badha, pak kata are terms only used in this industry.
How do you think the litfest will help to preserve the tradition of mishti making?
I am happy to share that the busiest days at our stores are on the days of different Bengali pujos and celebrations. For example, Shibaratri, Shonkranti, Akkhaytritiya, Poila Boishak and Lakkhi Pujo, to name a few. And those busy days at our shops take me back to when my grandmother was alive. The house used to come to life on such occasions. Mishti is my way of holding on to my Bengali culture and my traditions. We are getting lost in fancy packaging, increasing production using machinery and switching to fusion sweets.
But I have been working hard on social media and our page is now silently leading the way for the Bengali mishti Industry. I see so many mishti businesses have now started their social media pages, and they are not afraid to showcase their brand and their delicious spread of Mishtis. It makes me so happy to see the industry embracing who we are. That said, there is more work to be done. Through this litfest, we want to celebrate our rich Bengali heritage through misthti. It will take us through the culinary journey that mishti has been through over the course of time and the innovations made in between.
While discussing these grievances with my friend, Kounteya Sinha, he suggested that the only way we can fix this is to get the who’s who in the world of food under one roof and talk about mishti. That is how the idea was born and that is exactly what we are set out to do. A journalist and the only woman in the mishti Industry is gonna put mishti on the global culinary map. The evolution of this dessert category is unique to Bengal and its culture. There is absolutely nothing like this anywhere in the world.
Through this litfest, I want the best of the best food critics and food personalities to talk about this dessert category. Also, interestingly, the number of mishti businesses that are generational is unthinkable, and the ones that date back pre-independence are even more astonishing. Most stores are named after the original confectioner, who has done this through generations. Every time you see a name, it actually gives you a peek into the shop’s legacy, its history. Kolkata’s mishti shops have preserved the history of Bengal and safeguarded its cuisine through their heritage recipes.
But I am sad to see that the karigars are being replaced by machines. Some even changed their line of work and moved to other states. The very core of this industry is its people (the karigars) and we have to find a way to empower them and help them continue with their craft. There are only two ways the industry can survive - we either completely cut off the karigars and use machines or start putting our money where our mouth is. Staffing karigars has always been an issue. And I think I can solve it through wage equity and gender inclusivity. My dream is to help revive the karigari.
I am hoping that through this litfest, the mishti industry will be able to bag a substantial amount of investment, which will help create more jobs and opportunities.
Any one visiting this iconic shop what are the few sweets that they should rather must pick?
Mishti Doi. Hands down! It’s the crowd favourite and a huge hit with our customers. The Mishti Doi is made using the highest quality milk to attain the astounding taste and the extraordinarily creamy texture. The exquisite orange tinge is achieved through slow caramelization by cooking the milk and cane sugar mixture over low heat for close to 10 hours. It is then moved to earthen clay pots to set in dark room. I am always surprised how two humble ingredients (milk and sugar) can turn into the most complex and delicate bowl of creamy goodness.
Just a year away from completing the century? Any plans for the big day?
The Lit Fest will be our gift to the city that has been our home for 100 years
What has been your favourite mishti since your childhood?
I actually have a summer and a winter favourite. For the summers, my favourite has always been our Mishti Doi. Relishing a bhaar of Mishti Doi on a hot summer day is truly sinful. Another fond memory is when mom would make a lassi made out of Mishti Doi and rock salt for me and my sister right after we would return from our tennis practice. It was always so refreshing. And for the winters it has to be our Gurer Kachagolla. To be honest I enjoy Kachagolla all year round but sneaking a big scoop from the hot batch of freshly made Kacha pak, at the karkhana, during a cold winter night hits different.
Do you know to make any? If yes can you share the recipe of one
I can proudly say that I know how to make every single mishti on our counter, including the son papdi which I think is the most difficult.
Here is a recipe of my favourite Kora Paker Sandesh - the Kancha Aam Sandesh
*Kacha aam sandesh*
• 3/4 cup chhana/ chenna (hung and dried)
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 tbsp homemade mango puree
• 3 tsp raw mango purée
• First, place the chenna on a plate and start kneading it using the heel of your palm
• Keep kneading the chenna for 10 mins to attain a soft and smooth texture. • Once done, take a thick bottomed pan, and place the chenna with the granulated
sugar. The stove must be medium flame.
• Immediately start stirring, continuous stirring is very important and is a vital step , • After stirring continuously for on a medium flame for a few mins, bring the flame to a low(when you see the sugar has all melted and a syrupy texture has been attained)
• After this, keep stirring on low for an additional 6-7 mins
• Add the mango puree to it and mix it well
• At this point the colour of chenna will begin to turb into a yellow green tinge. Keep stirring for 2 additional minutes and turn off the heat(don’t remove the pan from the stove.) Do not stop stirring. Keep stirring with the stove off for 5 more mins to get a smooth texture. Let it cool down completely before making shapes.
• I prefer eating it out of a bowl but you can serve it making cute mango shapes designs using a ‘chhach’ or a wooden mould(in the shape of a mango). These moulds are not not available ever where but you always find them in Notun Bajar.