Profound sweet lovers as they are, when it comes to desserts, the Bengalis are forever ready to innovate and discover sweetmeats beyond their conventional platters. It is this zeal for saccharine intemperance that has helped the Bengali cuisine to enrich itself with sweets that are individually irresistible in their own right. One such simple yet fascinating sweet delight from rural Bengal is the Nolen Gurer Murki, that blends the land’s traditional puffed rice fascination with the delectable touch of the thick golden jaggery.
The preparation is as minimalist as mixing Khoi (puffed rice) with liquified and cooled jaggery. The result is an enticing bowl of brown-tinged rice puffs, consumed as it is or shaped into balls, holding a special significance in pujas and rituals of the country in general and Bengal in particular.
Nolen Gurer Murki is essentially a Makha — an ancient Bengali culinary technique that involves mixing a plethora of ingredients to create a quick snack. While the flavour notes of the authentic Makha can range from sweet to savoury, spicy to neutral, it is the readily producible nature that makes the Murki a Makha in the truest sense.
Since its inception in mainland China in the Song dynasty, puffed rice has served as the most suitable canvas for visualising a vibrant culture of Makha, especially with a sweetening agent. Dishes similar to the Nolen Gurer Murki can be found in other local as well as global cuisines. For instance, the Edo Japanese Okoshi, the Filipino Ampaw, the Thai Krayasaat, and the Malay Bepang Pulut all rest on a recipe of glazing puffed rice with a sugar syrup, as does the Tamil Pori, mentions of which can be found in the 15th century anthology Tiruppugazh.
Narratives of the Khoi, that build into the Murkis, are shrouded in the fantastical mysticism of Bengal’s ancient folklore and medieval literature the Mangalkavyas. Khoi was traditionally made from the unpopularised Binni variety of Bengal rice and finds mention in age-old nursery rhymes handed down orally from the earliest inhabiting generations of the land.
The Murki’s faithful counterpart, the Nolen Gur (jaggery) is probably older than the dish itself. We find Panini’s mention of Gour being the place of Gur in 4th century BCE. The modern Bogra of Bangladesh is the ancient Gour known to have produced the finest grade of sugarcane jaggery over the centuries. The date palm jaggery, the more popular variant for the Murki, is equally archaic, finding representations in Bengal’s Piruli folk songs of Farid Pir and poems of Dakshin Kalikapur village.