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The sweetest thing one Indian would say to another would be ‘muh meetha karo’ or words to the same effect. It is appropriate and auspicious to offer sweetmeats and mithais at happy occasions and especially during festivals.

Now what happens when Sweet Tooth goes a-travelling around the country? Depending upon the month and the region, there would be a few festivals Sweet Tooth can celebrate.

-----> Mithai: Sweets for every celebration

Northern Niceties

The land of the condensed milk: khoya is going to keep Sweet Tooth here for a while. Especially in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh! An earthenware dish with a smooth rice flour custard flavoured with cardamoms, almonds and pistachios greets Sweet Tooth as dessert at the very first instance. This is phirni and with a sprinkling of rose petals this custard sits regally at many a wedding buffet.

The next stop is a sweet shop where thick, good quality milk is bubbling happily in a gargantuan kadai. A little bit of expertise and lots of patience sees through the process of thickening the milk to a creamy consistency. With sugar, almonds and kewra water rounding up the flavours, this rabri is best had chilled. While the milk bubbles towards its rabri form, Sweet Tooth surveys the shop and sets eyes on a display of a range of fudge like preparations. Those are barfis: plain, chocolate, badam, pista - the colours are as inviting as their tastes! An unscheduled stopover to a friend’s place in the evening has the lady of the house rushing into the kitchen and rustling up a steaming hot wheat flour pudding, served resplendent in a small pool of ghee and garnished with chopped almonds and cashew nuts. As Sweet Tooth relishes this halwa, there are notes to compare about the other categories: the winters’ famed delight gajar ka halwa, the rich badam halwa, the light sooji halwa.

With an invitation to breakfast the following day in the offing, Sweet Tooth has a good night’s sleep with dreams of boondi laddus, besan laddus, feni, petha, kulfis, gajak, gulab jamuns giving Sweet Tooth a whirlwind and celestial tour of North Indian sweet delights. If you think Sweet Tooth would have had enough, you are probably incorrect. For breakfast, there were the inviting syrupy spirals, hot from the kadai-jalebis and imartis and someone had a pretty good beginning to the day! 

Western Wonders

Sweet Tooth has a packed itinerary: Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The list of delights to be tasted and/or relished seems to be quite fulfilling. The first day in Maharashtra is during the Ganapati festival and Sweet Tooth gets a soul satisfying experience of coconut filled modaks. Both steamed and fried varieties are welcome. A festive mealtime will also bring on the stuffed sweet pancakes called puran poli. Best enjoyed with a dunking in hot ghee, puran poli is a very nutritious addition to the menu. A visit to an old-time Parsi friend brings on memories of lagan nu kastar (baked wedding custard), khajur ghari, mava malido and koomas.

An entry to the land of sweet meals, Gujarat has Sweet Tooth looking forward to a complete meal called thali in Gujarati. Even the pulse and vegetable preparations have a dash of jaggery or sugar and Sweet Tooth is in a blissful daze! A taste of the creamy shrikhand, its tartness offset by the essence of rose is enough to justify the need for a nap after a meal. While the bags are packed up a well-wisher drops in with a gift of gramflour fudge called mohanthaal and jaggery fudge called golpapdi which he claims will keep for over a month. Sweet Tooth decides not to test its longevity and picks up a piece straightaway!

Rajasthan, with its rich historical background, awaits. Also awaiting are a range of specialty fare: ghevar, churma, moong dal halwa, malpua with rabri. Ghevar, as Sweet Tooth soon discovers, is like a honeycomb dripping with honey but prepared with intricate methodology with plain flour and sugar syrup! Churma is the most popular sweet made on special occasions served in combination with dal baati. A heavier formal sweet is moong dal halwa which tastes divine what with the flavour of roasted dal acting supreme. Another regal presentation that regales our traveller is the syrupy pancake called malpua served with a bowl of thick rabri.

Southern Surprises

With the taste of Rajasthani sweets still fresh, Sweet Tooth is ready to set the ball rolling in the South of India. Leanings are towards heavy milk based sweets what with rice and semolina being main cereals. More interesting is the vermicelli payasam, which Sweet Tooth believes will give the noodles loving Chinese some creative ideas! A tour around Hyderabad brings on better experiences in different types of vermicelli preparations with a variety of additions like lotus seeds, cardamoms, desiccated coconut and the quintessential almonds and pistachios. This city of the Charminar has the charming double ka meetha that is a fantastic bread pudding presented with a flourish.

Kerala beckons with its canopies of coconut palm leaves! Sweet Tooth is restless for the taste of banana fritters, which he had had in his childhood and it still lingers. Ah, the availability of ripe bananas is amazing. So the best use is to transform them into fritters with whole wheat flour and coconut. Ada pradaman is another sweet, relatively light, made with pressed rice, coconut milk and jaggery. Keralites celebrate Onam with the preparation of paruppu payasam: a kheer of moong dal.

As Sweet Tooth has to move on to Tamil Nadu, the bowl of pal payasam awaits at a friend’s house. Kheer made with rice flour dumplings it is a prasad offered to Lord Krishna. As the friends chat on there is talk about the Pongal festival which necessitates the preparation of pongal: rice and dal sweet laden with jaggery, coconut and nuts.

Karnataka famed for its Mysore Pak is not on the itinerary. But as Mysore Pak is popular, Sweet Tooth gets to pick up some even in Tamil Nadu! 

Eastern Eats

For Sweet Tooth this is the last stop and the longest stay over! For Bengal region is famous for its paneer based sweet delicacies the world over.

From sandesh to rasogullas, pantuas to barfis, there is no dearth of availability and Sweet Tooth will need to decide about the duration of his stay in Calcutta! Surprisingly light, the syrupy rasogullas beckon one to a non-stoppable eating binge. The variety of sandesh would confuse the first timer but for professionals like our man it is a ride into the enchanting world of paneer based sweets. Sweet Tooth discovers that a community known as Moiras has developed sweet making into a fine art and specialities like rasogullas and sandesh made at home can seldom match the better qualities available in confectionery shops.

In fact, Sweet Tooth is amazed at the obsession of the Bengalis with paneer! It forms the base for rasogullas and then there are numerous variations of the same. Dunk them in thickened milk with nuts and raisins and chill. This rasogulla payesh is better known as rasmalai in other parts of the country. Paneer makes the base for sandesh, pantua, channar jilipi, chitrokoot which are popular additions in every Bengali menu. Sweet Tooth was on the look out for another sweet which is a must in every Bengali household - Misti Doi or sweetened yogurt. Made with thickened milk and well set, it is a delicacy and as recommended, Sweet Tooth tries it with sandesh. The combination is a winner and as the palate is cleaned, Sweet Tooth looks forward to having a handful of bonde, which is sweet and crisp boondi made with gram flour and rice flour. Bonde are known as darbesh in the laddoo form.

And as Sweet Tooth is to be left here in Bengal we go ahead and delve into the shelves of Indian creations and come up with many delights for you! 

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