They say when in Rome, do as the Romans do!
After all, what is the point of traveling if you don’t experience the place through the eyes of the locals?
So I say, “When in Bengal, do as the Bengalis do”. On a recent excursion to Kolkata ‘The City of Joy’, I explored the local cuisine and ate just like the locals.
The market streets were lined with hawkers selling all sorts of delicacies- from momos, the very famous puchkas to macher chop (or fish cutlet). The lunch consisted of puffy pearls of rice, and some fish or prawn based gravy (Daab chingri).
And yet the meat lovers were not held back from having their fill, as they tucked into the sumptuous Kathi rolls made of chicken, eggs, or beef.
But the sweet fanatic that I am, what fancied me most was their range of sweetmeats.
Back home, we’ve had plenty of spongy Rosso gulas, but the one that I found there had a special quality about it which I have never experienced before.
What made it special?
It was the caramelized full-bodied taste of this secret ingredient which is true to the roots of Kolkata. The very precious ‘Nolen Gurer’.
Nolen Gur also was known as Notun Gur, which literally means ‘New Jaggery’.
Nolen Gur is made from the sap of date palm tree and is mainly sourced from Darjeeling.
It is much darker in color and richer in flavor than the jaggery made from cane juice.
How do they make Nolen Gur (jaggery)?
The whole process itself is quite intriguing. And it sure needs a lot of finesse and expertise to time the steps so your jaggery is just right.
The farmer climbs up the tree after sunset to fix an earthenware pot on the date palm tree.
Then he would make a cut on the tree trunk right above the mouth of the pot so that the sap of the tree drips and can be collected in the pot. The next morning this pot is brought down and the sap is immediately sent for cooking to produce the jaggery.
Any delay in converting the sap into jaggery leads to undesirable results. Even a slight increase in the atmospheric temperature can lead to fermentation of the sap into alcohol.
You can also directly have the sap as sweet tasting beverage full of nutrients.
Nolen is healthier than white sugar since it is not refined. It is also a good source of iron.
Winter months yield the optimal conditions to produce this jaggery.
Hence, Gur (jaggery) is made only during winters and can last only for a few months after winters.
Like all great food, the demand for Nolen Gur is ever increasing.
This has led to commercialization of the product.
To make this winter specialty available all around the year, they started processing and preserving the gur in solidified form or as Patali gur at -25 degrees.
For preservation purpose, the otherwise liquid gur is cooked to reduce until it becomes a thick sauce. This thickened gur is then stored in drums or storage containers.
Although the process leads to loss of some of the original flavor, people are too happy to complain.
If you have any more interesting facts about Nolen Gur or Bengali cuisine, please do share. We would love to hear them!