A few months ago, a Dr friend almost forced me to try Nolen Gur Ice Cream in Kolkata and even sent me pictures and links of the places it is available. I tried it and was instantly floored. No words can do justice to the taste and the pleasure it gives you. It’s unique, you fell in love with it instantly and only Kolkata, a foodies heaven, can offer this. That one scoop of that divine ice cream triggered the sweet story this week. What all the city offers to you, if you have a sweet tooth? The range is maddening and yet flavourful. Here we go… for a glimpse.
So, if you have a sweet tooth like me, Kolkata is the place to be in. Almost every third shop on the roadside is a sweetmeat shop. While there are enormous varieties of ethnic Bengali Sweets, I have also enjoyed some amazing, French desserts in the city such as Caramel Custard and Soufflé in some of the fine dining places in the city. Some Chinese Desserts, yes Chinese. Then there are street food vendors who sell some amazing stuff. Let’s talk about these. So first thing first, my favourite Nolen Gur Ice Cream.
Nolen Gur is a Date Palm Jaggery which is an intrinsic part of the Bengali Culture. Nolen or sometimes also called as Notun means New. This Date Palm Jaggery which is made out of the sap of Date Palm tree has a distinct sharp flavour, a unique aroma and is available in winter months only. Then there is another version of this Gur, a syrup which resembles Maple Syrup in consistency and looks. This is known as Jhola Gur. So, they make Ice Cream with it.
I have eaten the Nolen Gur Ice Cream in Bhojohori Manna and in Oh! Calcutta. A scoop of his heavenly delight is beige in colour and is normally garnished with Jhola Gur (Nolen Gur Syrup) before serving. The milky, creamy concoction has that flavour of condensed milk which is infused with the aroma and taste of Nolen Gur. The syrup poured over it adds to the taste and gives that sharpness to the flavour. This smooth creamy delight plays with the taste buds and is infused with minute granuals which one can feel on the palate while eating. On asking the server in Bhojohori Manna, I was told that it had Makha Sondesh. This version of Sondesh is pure Chhena (without addition of any flour) and is in lump form. This is added to the ice cream to add to the texture. Well, one has to taste it to enjoy it. The flavour can’t be described. I don’t miss a chance ever to enjoy this delicacy.
Since, we are on Ice Creams, let’s talk of Kulfi too. On Woods Street in Kolkata, there are vendors who set up there vending baskets in the evening to sell Fruit Ice Creams ( as they call it) with flavours like Chikoo, Sitaphal, Mango, etc etc. You ask for the flavour and they fish out a cone from the icebox kept on the side, scoop out slices from it and present it to you in a paper bowl or in an earthen bowl. I was curious to know how they identify the flavours and he smilingly shared that different flavours have distinct colour of the cone. Then I realized that it was a rainbow of colours in his ice box.
These Kulfis by and large have the same frozen Khoya infused sweetened milk as its base and then different flavours are given by adding chunks or real fresh fruits. One by one, we tried Chikoo, Mango and Strawberry kulfi. Uneven slices of Kulfi are served in an earthen bowl which sets your mood and taste. The looks are inviting and the aroma of frozen milk and fruits gives you a whiff of freshness. Every bite gives you taste of Khoya infused with the flavours of the fruit and the fruit itself. One can go on eating one after the another as one is unable to decide which is the best flavour. Again, good offerings and it is an experience in itself which one must have. I have gone quite a few times and could go again.
Now let’s talk of some desserts from different cuisines which this city offers.
I have enjoyed Chocolate Soufflé in Mocambo on Park Street quite a few times and have written about it earlier in my blog post entitled French Soufflé And Its Indian Cousin, here. Then, I have had Orange Soufflé in Tollygunge Club. Once again, that soft, fluffy, orange zest infused smooth and flavourful Soufflé, with all the mild flavours, still mesmerizes me, often. Then, I also enjoyed Caramel Custard in the Club. A small baked goldenish mound sitting in a pool of caramel syrup and having a caramel crown again was a delight to enjoy. The crunch and sweetness of caramel provided a perfect contrast to the soft baked custard. In fact, despite on a strict portion management, I couldn’t help having a second helping.
Then I had this Strawberry Cube, as they call it, from the iconic Flury’s. That will take you back into your childhood days. The days of basic pastries. It has a hard top layer of cream which is strawberry flavoured. The cake beneath is slightly hard and thick. A bite will give you a taste of strawberry, crunch & sweetness coupled with the flavour of the cake. Gives you a feel of having a sort of cassata ice cream.
Lately, I had dinner ,with two other colleagues, in Yauatcha, a Chinese restaurant in the upmarket Quest Mall. To wrap up our meal and talks, we ordered three different desserts…Selection of Ice Creams & Sorbets, Tropical Dome and Chocolate & Raspberry Delice. Three scoops of mildly sweet Ice Creams came atop a syrup of sorbet and crowned with a slice of honeycomb. The sorbet provided that sharp edge to the mild flavours of the ice cream.
The pale golden dome had a dominant yet mild flavour of coconut mousse, again the ice cold sorbet provided that edge. The striking red velvety Respberry was a delight to look at and had a filling of lychee infused panacota with a respberry flavoured ice cream. All of them were picturesque, had mild flavours and delicious to enjoy.
How can one talk of Kolkata and not talk of having enjoyed Sondesh. I would have tasted many varieties and from almost all the leading brands such as Gangurams, KC Das, Balaram Mullick, Putiram and many others. Each one is a legend and has specialities. I tried a few, though would love to taste all the fare these legends offer.
Sankha Sondesh is mildly sweet which has flavours of Chhena and khoya. It is made in a shape to resemble a conch hence the name. Is slightly brownish in colour, is not very heavy and is a delight to enjoy. Then there is another version known as
Jalbhara. It is a moist version of Sondesh and is slightly darker than Sankha, different in shape and size. This one is slightly more sweet as compared to Sankha and has raisins in it. Kacha Golla is chhena with lot of moisture and less of sweet. If you eat it on its own, you might enjoy it as a mild sweet. However, If one eats it after Jalbhara, it’s anticlimax. Chenarpayesh comes set in a disposable cup. Looks like a Phirni type of dish which has taste of chhena and has a dry crust. Is granular and quite sweet.
I have particularly not talked of Roshogulla and Mishti Doi because they need no introduction and enough is already written about them. I love sweets and yet Nolen Gur Ice Cream stands out me as the best what Bengal has brought to the world. And yes, Bengal is not about Roshogulla and Mishti Doi only. It has a wide range to offer from finesse to street food, in sweetness.