Lavang Lata at Babumosai
“Heritage Cuisine” – sounds good isn’t it?
You may presume that this pompous term refers to pretentious traditional high-brow cuisine which adorns the tables of the classes!
In my vocabulary “heritage cuisine” is high-falutin gobbledygook for simple staple down-to-earth local street-food relished by the masses. Like Vada Pav (Mumbai’s “Heritage Burger”), or Puneri Misal, or Kulcha Chole, Katchi Dabeli, Bhel, Kathi Kababs, Baida Roti, Malpua – the list is endless.
There is a delicious sweetmeat called “Lavang Lata” which I tasted for the first time and relished piping hot at Pehelwan’s at the end of Lanka near BHU in Varanasi in the seventies. A cool Lassi ( in winter) or warm milk (in summer), both with dollops of rabdi added, topped up the gastronomic experience.
Later, in the eighties, I came across slightly different versions of Lavang Lata at various eateries, most notably Nathu at Bengali market in New Delhi. But these versions were nowhere close to Pehelwan’s Banarasi Lavang Lata.
Just imagine my surprise, when, during my walk last evening, I chanced upon a delectable Lavang Lata in an out-of-the-way unpretentious sweet shop called ‘Babumosai Bengali Sweets’ tucked away almost in obscurity, way off the beaten track, on Aundh Road on the way to Khadki in Pune.
Actually I was in search of Rasgullas. (Roshogollas, if you want it spelt that way). Having relocated from a ‘happening’ place like Churchgate in the heart of Mumbai to an obscure “back of the beyond” desolate place somewhere in the jungles on the banks of Mula river between Aundh and Sangvi, craving and wandering desperately in my search for ‘heritage food’, I hit the Aundh road past Spicer College towards Khadki, enjoying a refreshing walk between the expanse of the verdant Botanical Gardens and the foliage of Pune University, when in the first building I encountered on my left, I saw a nondescript signboard “Babumosai Bengali Sweets” (maybe the spelling ought to be ‘Babumoshai’) atop a deserted lackluster sweetshop.
There was no one in the shop and the lifeless atmosphere and uninspiring display almost put me off. But having come so far, I decided to give it a try and looked at the sweets on display in trays behind a glass counter - Rasgullas, Sandesh, Rajbhog, Gulab Jamuns, Malai Sandwiches - the ubiquitous ‘Bengali Sweets’; and suddenly a man came out carrying a tray of piping hot Lavang Latas, the very sight of which made my mouth water so much that I ordered one immediately.
I walked outside the shop, stood in the cool evening air, took a small bite of the Lavang Lata, rolled the syrupy hot piece on my eager salivated tongue and closed my eyes in order to enhance my gustatory experience.
I pressed the Lavang Lata upwards with my tongue against the palate, the roof of my mouth, and slowly it disintegrated releasing its heavenly flavour of nutmeg and cardamom. That’s the way you should enjoy Bengali sweetmeats – never bite, swallow and devour in a hurry. Don’t use your teeth; slowly, very slowly, just roll on your tongue and lightly press on the roof of your mouth till the delicacy melts releasing its luxurious flavour and divine fragrance into your gustatory and olfactory systems. And remember, keep your eyes closed, shut yourself to the outside world, focus on your tongue, internalize the experience and transcend to a state of delightful ecstasy, till you feel you are in seventh heaven. That’s the art of eating.
The Lavang Lata is perfect. Not sickly sweet, but tantalizingly tasty, with the subtle essence of its ingredients and seasoning coming through. The rabri and khoya, the raisins and dry fruits, the crispy sweet crust, the spices and most importantly, the exotic fortifying and stimulating taste of clove. It’s sheer bliss. The invigorating taste lingers on my tongue for a long long time , as if for eternity.
Just writing this is making my mouth water. And I am rushing to “Babumosai” once more – this time to sample the Rasgullas, maybe the Sandesh – and I’ll tell you all about it right here.
And I’ll keep writing about all the my experiences with “Heritage Cuisine” and the art of eating.
Dear fellow Foodie - do let me know if you enjoyed reading this.