Nolen Gur: The Favourite Date Palm Jaggery of Bengal

I do not have much of a sweet tooth, and being a Bengali this has often led to a bit of ridicule from friends and family. A few of my favourites though are Jilipi (the jalebi from Bengal), Mishti Doi and Lyangcha. But on top of my charts is always the winter delicacy that you yearn for, the sweets and desserts prepared from palm date jaggery or Nolen Gur as it is known as.

Nolen Gur

The word “Nolen” means new, as the flavour of the jaggery is at its peak when it is prepared fresh during the winter months. Many districts of rural West Bengal claim to produce the best Khejur Gur (the sugarcane version called Bheli or Akhi gur is mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra). In fact some individual villages are known for the quality of their gur.

Patali Gur
Patali Gur

In December last year, I was at Santiniketan, and my little knowledge of how gur is prepared got augmented at a field off Phuldanga. Date trees lined up on one side of the field, while on the road, enthusiasts were enjoying the first output from the earthen pitchers carefully downloaded from the trees during dawn – the date juice or Khejurer Ras which is so so refreshing. It is another matter that as the day progresses this same juice left in the pitcher ferments and by noon becomes a potent alcohol to put you on a high. Just next to the person selling the ras (or juice) was a squarish earthen stove fueled by wood, where the ras was being boiled in a metal tray and gradually condensed into nolen gur. 

Date Palm Tree

                                                                        

The preparation of gur is an elaborate process. The people who are in the profession of preparing the gur go by the name of “Shiuli” in Bengal. The work of a shiuli is very tough. In the wintry evenings they climb the date tree, and place an earthen pitcher just below the branches. A gash is made on the tree to enable the sap to flow and collect in the pitcher. Then again in the wee hours of the morning, it is a climb up the dew moist slippery tree to collect the pitcher and carefully bring it down. The process of making the date jaggery starts from there. The sap condenses into liquid nolen gur on a wooden fire, and some part of that is further made into hard Patali (or hard chunks). 

Nolen Gur stall

                                                                            

Many Bengali households buy large quantities in winter to last a few months where they can use these for their many desserts like payesh, patisapta, and sandesh. However, the gur progressively loses its flavour over time and very few varieties retain much of it even after a year. There is another version of date jaggery known as “Jiren Gur” where the sap is collected from the tree after a gap (or rest) for a few days.

The gur made in the villages is sold in the local markets, and some of the better ones make their way to the wholesalers in district towns and cities. In North Kolkata there are large wholesalers (known in Bengal as “gurer arat”) where you can find the finest nolen and patali from different districts of Bengal. Some of them also supply these to large customers like sweet shops all over India and even parts of the world.

Srimanta Gurer Arat, a 200 year old wholesale outlet in Sovabazar

Couple of years back, my blogger friend Indrajit Lahiri had taken me to a 200-year old shop in Shovabazar Gur Patti known as Srimantar Gurer Arat where I was privy to getting educated about different varieties of gur and their favours.  The shop gets different varieties of gur from all over Bengal and supplies to clients in India and abroad (including Hyderabad’s own Delhi Mithaiwala and Dadus). They had invited Indrajit for a briefing on an overview of their trade and I had tagged along. Subrata Mitra, a young food lover who organized this visit, was also with us.

The knowledge that we could acquire about the various types of Nolen gur from many districts of Bengal was simply phenomenal (though it must only be tip of an iceberg). The best nolen gur as per the current owner Mr Tanmay Bera (great grandson of Late Srinath Chandra Bera who founded the shop) is not from Joynagar in South 24-Parganas as we all know, but from Majhdia near Krishnanagar and from Gede close to Bangladesh border. We were also told that more dark the colour in the gur, better is the quality, and the best patali gur these days are from Jalangi in Murshidabad. 

The smaller cup shaped patali gur is called Muchi Patali whereas the thali shaped ones are called Thala Patali. There is also tinned patali gur. It seems the best sweet shops use nolen gur to make their sweets, whereas the more economical ones use a mix of nolen and patali. I have never seen so much gur in my life, stacked up by their origin location, density and quality. As per them, there is often adulteration with sugar which makes the patali harder. Good patali will be of a soft texture.

Indrajit has captured the details in a nice video. You can watch it here for much more detailed information. 

                                                                           

Newer interesting packaging of nolen gur are making it more user-friendly. Biswa Bangla, the West Bengal government initiative and some private suppliers now supply small quantities in user-friendly tubes, where you can just push out the gur with an ease.

Nolen Gur Wholesaler
With the owners of Srimanta Gurer Arat

The use of nolen gur is not just restricted to traditional Bengali sweets. There are many innovative and experimental recipes where the gur is used in preparing a whole range of food, including even cocktails and ice creams. More about it in another post in the near future. 

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Four Cloud Kitchens to Order Food From in Hyderabad

The Cloud Kitchen concept has matured over time, and now you have many entrepreneurs adopting this model for food and beverages. Here in Hyderabad, we have quite a few delivery only setups, some with ultra-modern facilities, giving us a chance to experience diverse cuisines. Cloud kitchen and home chefs are subjects very close to my heart, as I believe less capital intensive models of food business can lead to a whole crop of successful small entrepreneurs and self-employed persons. As I keep on tracking the cloud kitchen scene in the city, here are a few that caught my eyes in recent times.

Delivered Dishes from Arancini

Food from Telangana kitchens have always been a matter of much debate. I find a lot of pundits claiming that the differences between Telangana and Andhra food are minimal. However, others rightly opine that Telangana cuisine itself is diverse with lots of difference even between foods of different districts. More about that possibly in a different post. Here I want to talk about Telangana Vindu (Call 9494024345) , a cloud kitchen in Begumpet offering traditional food from Karimnagar in particular.

Food From Telangana Vindu

The person behind this kitchen, Malathi Rao is from Karimnagar, and she uses her home recipes to rustle up some really tasty stuff. The Karimnagar style Mutton Curry is spicy (You can ask her to play down the chillies, but I prefer it this way) but there was a nice santolan (balance) in the masalas, and this went famously with some flavour rich Bagara Rice she prepared. The Gudla Pulusu (egg curry) was par for the course, and the slightly dry Kheema (with kalejis and nalli) was unputdownable. Really enjoyed the meal, as well as the traditional presentation in earthenware and saal leaves.


Gudla Pulusu (Top) and Kheema

They also do Natu Kodi, Jonna Rote, Fish and Prawns. Will try more dishes from their stable soon. Good to see local cloud kitchens offering Telangana food, as most of the restaurants shy away from doing it.

Grilled Chicken in Pepper Sauce (Arancini)

There are not too many cloud kitchen dishing out continental fare, and Arancini (Call 7702461100) steps in to fill that gap in the market. The new European cloud kitchen is part of Jus'Gourmet, who are known for their other brands The Indiway and Penang. The stuff they do is extremely interesting. Grilled Chicken in Pepper Sauce (served with mashed potatoes) is the dish which I would wholeheartedly recommend, both as the chicken was finished to the correct texture and the sauce tasted rich and nice.

House Special Pizza (Top) and Blueberry Cheesecake

D Chopra Salad (strange name but the mixed veg salad is very fresh and tasty) with an array of vegetables in it. Blueberry Cheesecake, Sourdough House Special Pizza, Chicken Hot Dog and Lasagne were all very very impressive. If you have a sweet tooth go for their Walnut Brownie. They have quite a diverse menu to choose from, and from the crop I tasted I feel they will do a good job in most of them.

Being in Hyderabad, how can we have cloud kitchens not offering biryani as the signature dish? Love with Biryani introduces a good choice in biryanis, Andhra Pulavs (which are also called biryanis in this city) and other dishes that can be ordered from your homes all over Hyderabad. 

Chicken Dum Biryani

In the preview pack they sent across, the packaging is one of the best I have seen from delivery-only brands. Prawn Ghee Roast Biryani was the one I liked the best among the three biryanis sent, the others being Chicken Dum Biryani and Gongura Mamsam Biryani. Another dish I would recommend from them is Kachi Mirchi Ka Murgh. They also do kababs, Peshawari Murgh, the one I sampled was par for the course.

Kali Mirch Ka Murgh (Top) and Peshawri Murgh

If you are a fan of grilled chicken, look no further. Nitrogrill (Call 8008968272) at Somajiguda is offering some real tender and juicy Nitro Grilled Chicken based on their original recipe, and augmented by the outstanding flavours of their two proprietary sauces - Nitro Sauce and Cheesy Sauce. You can opt for sides such as Saffron Rice, Coleslaw and Large Fries to make it a complete meal. A highlight of the dishes is the very little amount of oil used for their preparation. Again here, both the quality of the chicken and sauce were praiseworthy.

Nitro Grill Chicken

The cloud kitchen has its own site nitrogrill.in from where the dishes can be ordered. The stuff comes in neat biodegradable packaging which is microwaveable. They also offer some delicious Chocolate Mousse which can be ordered alongside.

Chocolate Mousse


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Four New Restaurants in Hyderabad to Visit in Early 2022

I start by wishing my readers a Very Happy New Year. Like every year, 2022 comes in with fresh resolutions, fresh hopes and fresh initiatives. The restaurant industry also is gearing up for bright sunshine, the year will definitely be the end of this pandemic, and the large numbers of hotel and restaurant professionals who had gone through terrible times in the last two years will look up to a lot of improvements starting this year. In this post, I will look at a few cool restaurants which have started operations in the last few months.

Mrs Mage

Hyatt Hyderabad Gachibowli had hosted a pop-up after a successful pop-up of their new concept named Mrs Mage in 2020.  Mrs Mage, the protagonist, seems to be a compulsive traveller and the pop-up showcased recipes that she has liked during her journey. Some were authentic dishes and some concoctions which has been rusted up exclusively for her at a remote corner. The pop-up showcased these special items. Thus, we have here a kind of global fusion food, with quite a few comfort dishes thrown in. 

Chilli Lime anchovies/Mrs Mage

Happy with the response they had received, the hotel now gave her a permanent place in later part of 2021. The second permanent outlet from the brand after Hyatt Ahmedabad, Mrs Mage is located in an idyllic setting next to the swimming pool,  and the shack-like place has a full menu of delicious and some offbeat food and drinks. On a moonlit cold evening. Jack's Crispy Chilli Chicken, Qianmein Noodles Lotus Stem Fritters, Steamed Chicken Bao, Chilli Pork and Marina Beach Kothu Paratha were some of the dishes which appealed to me.  Mrs Mage Parfait and Bombe Alaska are desserts not to be missed, with the table theatrics coming as a bonus.

Marina Beach Kothu Paratha/ Mrs Mage

Would recommend this place for a quiet dinner with some good cocktails (the whisky lover me tried Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned). Nice food, great ambience and affordable prices.

Mrs Mage Parfait

The second new restaurant I am quite excited about is Anna Native, a new place in Sainikpuri, Secunderabad’s new buzzing locality. Serving dishes from the South Indian states they impressed me both with the presentation and taste of food.  I was very impressed with the fact that Chef Ismail had worked on the presentation of the dishes, adding table theatrics for some of them, but had not moved away from authenticity of most of them. 

Anna Native

The Kodi Bonda Soup was light but tasty, with chicken bondas served on top mounted on a stick. Anna Native Potlam Biryani is their take on MLA Potlam Biryani, it has an assortment of meat and seafood along with rice tucked inside an omelette.

Kodi Bonda Soup (top) and Sabudana Vada /Anna Native

Gollichina Chicken Wings, Sabudana Wada are some of the dishes which can be savoured here, while Chicken Chettinad served with appams, Guntur Chilli Prawns, Gongura Prawns and Ghee onion rice are some more items which deserve special mention. Me, a diabetic had to watch while my wife feasted on the desserts Junnu and Mango Delight - both of which were super as per her.

Anna Native Potlam Biryani

Another new place in Secunderabad, Soul Fine Dine-by The Butler has opened up in Park Lane, offering mainly Continental food with a touch of Mediterranean too. The 50-seater affordable place offers a set menu of delicacies, running up-to five courses. Loved quite a few of the offered dishes from the menu of the day including the Chicken Quiche, Carrot Celery Soup, Lebanese Chicken and Pannacotta. The outstanding dishes were Pumpkin Parsley Soup, Red Snapper in Butter Garlic Sauce and the Apple Pie

Soul Fine Dine/ Lebanese Chicken

The place also has special menus and promotions from time to time like a special French menu for two weeks in October when a French chef was visiting, a Duck special in December and so on. So look out festivals here. The owner Chandan is an extremely enthusiastic person and knows his food, and we can definitely expect from him more surprises from time to time.

Quiche / Soul Fine Dine

Ohri's Ming's Court, one of the most popular Chinese restaurants located at Basheerbagh (which we have been visiting since ages) now has a new outlet at Ohri's building, Banjara Hills. The place serves Pan-Asian delicacies apart from the Chinese it is known for. The original restaurant has quite a lot of loyal customers in the city and is buzzing all the time. So a new branch in a different location was warranted. 

Ming's Court Banjara

At a menu preview, we tried out a few dishes from here - both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Balinese Grilled Fish was the star of the evening. The Thai Green Curry, Red Pepper Lamb, XO Prawns and Chicken Gyoza were the other dishes of note. Burmese Khau Suey is another dish here not to be missed. They also have a range of Sushis and dimsums as well as, the latter served in a basket with a choice of various condiments. 


Naughty Girl Sushi Roll (Top) and Dim Sum/ Ming's Court



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