Bengal has a unique relationship with the same when it comes to sweets. Every Bengali or Non-Bengali in Bengal and every Bengali outside the state have a wholly dedicated relationship with sweets. So if the average Bengali, most generically stating, does not have a sweet post a meal, there is a chance that some granules of sugar would find their way into the mouth!

A Look At How It All Began

  • This might be to the hype, but yes, the average Bengali is a sweet lover. Over time and across the pages of history, there have been references galore to this sweet tooth. But then again, there have also been countless stories around how specific mishtis or sweets came into being.
  • Initially, the chena-based sweets were not as typical as they are now. Curdled milk products were considered impure by the upper caste Hindus ages back. It was only the colonial impact of the Portuguese that chena became the backbone of sweets from Bengal.

The Birth And The Birthplace Of Monohara

  • One sweet belongs exclusively to Bengal and is barely replicated elsewhere in the Manohara. It came from a quaint little place akin to a village called Janai. Luckily, I have had the chance to visit this semi-rural hub in my childhood years because my granny's maternal home had a palatial mansion here and was much revered being the head priests of the zamindars in a past era.
  • The craze around Monohara saw a brief revival a year back owing to a Bengalis soap gaining ground across regional television networks. But, interestingly, the sweet looks like something else while it tastes different. That is to mean, when you chance upon the sweet, you do not expect it to be so mildly sweetened or so tightly bound in a hardened syrupy coating.
  • Legends associate the Monohara or the sweet that makes your heart fall for it, with a British officer ordering a sweet that does not go sour quickly. Thus, the sugar crystallization based coating on a soft doughy chena sweet! This was a precursor to one of the many smart preservation techniques from an era with no refrigerators yet valued long-lasting food.
  • However, despite having no written documentation of such a legend, most food historians vouch for another tale of origin around the monohara. In an era bygone, the local zamindar of Janai went away on a hunting tour after ordering his head cook to prepare a soft sweetness that is easy to eat yet enjoyable. The cook did just so and made a delicate delectable piece of chena-based sweet laced with the mildest sugar content. (This recipe is followed to the core since the current day shops of Janai still use only about 300 grams of sugar for a kilo of chena).
  • When the zamindar did not return for more than a couple of days, the cook--wary of his invention going waste- coated it with thick sugar syrup. He left it to cool off. After a time, the chemistry worked its magic, and the upper part all over the monohara became crusty and almost like a sugary envelope to a soft white interior.

The sweet stayed fresh enough for devouring by the zamindar on return. Period.

Of Nostalgia And Possessiveness

The moiras or sweet makers of Janai are very possessive of the exact recipe for the Bengali sweets. True, that the bigger sweet chains have started to churn out Monohara to revive the sidelined mishti, but the magic in the tiled small shops on the lanes of Janai is something a notch different. Perhaps the maker, the water, or the aura out there makes the monohara from Janai, such a heart stealer.

Satarupa B. Kaur has been writing professionally for a decade now. But, she is always on the go; she loves to travel, books, and playtime with her toddler as she explores new places and food!