India has numerous old cities and towns with food institutions that have passed down culinary heritage from generations. Lucknow is one such old city, hence growing up here and eating in these old food establishments I always heard conversations which were either about the miraculous inception of their really renowned dish or the stories of the glorious culinary scene of the past. So, when the owner of one such establishment running since 1844 starts his conversation with a description of the clear and bright future that he sees for his great product, you stop and take notice and I am so glad i did.
This was in North Kolkata at the 170-year-old “Girish Ch Dey & Nakur Ch. Nandy” sweet shop where I went to taste the famed golai pera, parijat, kasturi, ratabi sandesh that have survived over a century and continue to attract crowds. Here I met the owner Partha Nandy who was visibly happy to know that I was a chef set out to taste some food because he wanted feedback on the texture and mouth feel of his new experiments with sandesh, an unusual and a humbling request from a sixth generation sweet maker. I ended up tasting close to 50 sandesh varieties that were on the shelves, every sandesh tasting took its time as it came with a story, a passionate description and a future. I was so glad there were so many of them to taste allowing me the time to know more about this young proud gentlemen with a sound knowledge of sweets and a passion for his work that could belittle the greatest chefs.
I had to (and like how) know where Partho got it from, it was his “Mejo Kaka” Prashanta Nandy, his father’s younger brother, who had spent all his life “at the shop for the shop”. Partha spoke about his uncle’s connect to Chhena so intensely for the next 10 minutes that Prashanta da’s life passed me by like I was living and feeling it.
A proud traditional Bengali confectioner, “Mejo Kaka” started training with the chhena kaarigars after school at the age of 14 and by the time he was in college he was a deft player of this game. The true game changer in him surfaced a little later, when he felt that the fascination towards western confectionary was pulling people away from his passion, what is it that we cannot do he used to say and thus started a creative era of Nakur sweets, liquid centred chocolates faced the liquid gur filled Jolbhora sondesh, Liqueur-filled sandesh and the ganache centered chocolate chip sandesh then came the world’s first “sandesh cake”
Prashanta da wouldn’t stop here, he went on to create more than 50 varieties of sandesh before he passed away at the age of 56 leaving behind a legacy of flavour and a well-trained heir, the 29-year-old Partho Nandy. “My story so far has been exactly the same” Partho says, mejo kaka had him start with the karigars early and “married” him to the shop after his Bcom “that’s where the similarity ends,” he adds.
“Mejo kaka has given Bengali sweets a modern future that I or nobody can dream of giving.” By virtue of my 18-year-old beautiful relationship to food I’d like to put this on record, Partho da — You will change this game again, soon