Sunday, April 14, 2013

The curious case of the elusive Mishti!

Mishti Doi/Dahi or Sweet Curd is a dessert quite common in the states of West Bengal and Orrisa.  It is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either guda/gura (brown sugar) or khajuri guda/gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight. Earthenware is always used as the container for making mitha dahi because the gradual evaporation of water through its porous walls not only further thickens the yoghurt, but also produces the right temperature for the growth of the culture. Very often the yoghurt is delicately seasoned with a pinch of elaichi (cardamom) for fragrance. Baked yogurt is a similar preparation in the west.(source Wikipedia)

In October 2012, I went to the city of Joy(Kolkata) to meet a beloved friend of mine, Ms. Mayalakshmi Rao. In this very trip I had authentic mishti dahi from a local shop called Vien (not on of those big chains like haldirams and nathus) and I was in love. It's not like I had never had Mishti before this. In fact I had had full matkas of the curd that my dad got us whenever he went to Kolkata and besides the occasional kolkata mishti, Mother Dairy, which was 10 steps away offered the dessert. What made this particular Mishti special was that it was an artistic creation, it wasn't a desert that was made in bulk to be sold as an object. It had a certain sentimental value owing to the nature and reputation of the shop, a shop and not a big grand chain of shops. The consistency, flavor, lightness and little surprise chunks of ras gula in the dessert were the highs of the desert at Vien Shop. 

This particular dessert has been evading me ever since I came back. Delhi is considered the food capital by many and yet the doi has been escaping my tongue again and again, or at least the authentic doi is. I tried the Mother Dairy packed Mishti but once you have had the real thing you can't go back. It is sad that Bengali Sweets, a sweet house in Bengali Market doesn't even sell Mishti Dahi, can you beat that? Can you? Nathus, however did have a bad version of the doi. It was in a 'traditional' matka. If only the doi inside was as traditional as the matka. The next step was Delhi Haat, but no good news there either. The doi they sell there tastes exactly like Mother Dairy and costs 5 times as much. The last resort seems to be making it at home, but then I am not gonna go through that much trouble right now, unless there is no option. 

If you find a place where I can find authentic bengali mishti doi, do let me know in the comments below. We have reduced the distance between places, bridged the gaps between cultures and the increasing heterogeneity of population is helping this. Despite all of that, there are certain things that call out to you, certain sights, tastes and experiences that you can only get from the places where it all started. Chakratirtha Travels, a venture by Ms. Mayalakshmi Rao, Prof Kim Raikes and myself offers such experiences. It was CTT that made my trip to Kolkata memorable and introduced me to a dessert like Mishti whose taste lingers in my mouth even after months of having it.  
You can see the CTT blog here - http://chakratirthatravels.blogspot.in/
And the CTT facebook page here -  https://www.facebook.com/TravelChakra

Below is a picture of me enjoying mishti. Photo Credits - Ms. Mayalakshmi Rao 

7 comments:

randomwordsofaravingmind said...

As a bengali here in Delhi, I absolutely, totally and utterly understand the frustration of trying to find authentic misti doi here. I have been looking for four years now and I have failed to find that perfect dollop of goodness..... however the closest thing that i have found is the misti doi at 'annapurna sweet house'at CR Park, near the kali mandir...... also try the sandesh ...... pretty much the best in Delhi ( although it doesn't compare to the ones in kalighat in kolkata ) ....Good Luck !

Karan Leo Vohra said...

Thanks so much for the suggestions. I am going to go ahead and try Anapurna soon. CR Park has been on my mind for a while now, I did wonder that considering a majority of the residents of CR Park are bengali, there is bound to be something to show for it. I am on the quest and will let you know if I find something better :D

Kim said...

Mishti is amrita, maybe? The nectar or essence of a place and its meaning. "There are certain places that call out to you, certain sights, tastes and experiences that you can only get from the places where it all started..." Mishti is the sum and substance of that call, it's what brought me back to India again and again...the immortal origin of our earthly journey and experience. No wonder we're all looking for it!

Nadeem Uz Zaman said...

I have heard quite a lot about Kolkatta's Mishti's (sweets).If I'm not wrong, most of the cuisine is made up of cottage cheese that is sweetened. This post reminds me of Hyderabadi Kheer (a traditional making method of which is hardly known to only few of Hyderabadi's here of the Nizams) where rice is mixed and blended to form a thick paste and added to milk which has already been boiled for few minutes. I so want to have Kolkatta's rasogulla's. We never find them here or say even if we do get it for the name sake, we never know if what we ate was authentic. :( However, having a friend like Mayalakshmi Rao pays well. :p Sometimes in future. :p khi khi khi :p Awesome experience this is, Karan! :) Thanks for sharing.

Incognita said...

That's right Nadeem
"Chhana" or cottage cheese and every sweet maker has their own secret for making the perfect chhana. I took Karan to Vien because I've noticed they use pure ingredients and no fake colors/flavors.
And no, not water buffalo milk! Move over wikipedia. Nobody's gonna tell you that cow's milk is needed for the perfect chhana! Haul yourself over to Kolkata. You can sign up for CTT's Mishti tour where you try different shops out for yourself. And if you're adventurous, maybe travel with us to districts that are famed for different mishti.

Incognita said...

Kim read what I replied to Nadeem!

Incognita said...

Karan did you try out the shop that "randomwordsofaravingmind" suggested in his comment?
Do let me know. And don't forget the Four-F Yaatra starting 1st May includes Mishti Tours. Perhaps Mishti will no longer be as elusive?