‘Mashima, malpua khamu’ (Roughly translated: Can I have some malpuas, aunt?) was my first introduction to the word ‘Malpua’. Do I see a smile on the faces of all the hardcore Uttam Suchitra fans who instantly recognise this famous dialogue delivered by Bhanu Bandopadhyay in the epic romantic comedy film ‘Sharey Chuattor’? I think I was about 9 or 10 years when I watched this film on our black & white Telerama TV and my immediate question to my mom was, “ Ma, what is a malpua?” Yes, even though a quiet child, I was a very curious being and used to ask a lot of questions, mostly to my mom, who has been a big influence in my life. To answer my question, my mother made malpua for me. I am sure, she had made those before as well, but may be I was too young to know what I was eating then.
So in front of my curious eyes, she placed a plate on which lied a round, thick, deep fried and warm pancake about the size of a small luchi or puri, dipped in honey gold sugar syrup and filling the air with a heady aroma of fennel, cardamom and ghee. I was mesmerised to say the least. A large bite of the kheer-rich-crisp-outside-soft-inside malpua took me to the pearly gates of heaven with angels strumming the harps. And ‘pop’- came out my sweet tooth.
Many years have passed since then and I had many experiences (mostly very disappointing ones) of having malpua at different places – be it in people’s homes, big and small shops, fairs, 5-star hotels or outside Kolkata. But none came close to the malpua made in our home. Usually we get to see a thin, semi-transparent, semi-brown, flour heavy, hard to tear, watery syrup dipped mockery of malpua. Whereas malpuas in our house have always been full of kheer, plump, flavourful, aromatic, rich brown, quite large and dipped in thick sugar syrup.
Malpua had been a regular feature in our Bijoya Dashami preparation which was one of the reasons the glutton in me looked forward to Durga Puja. I remember guarding my pieces (and I always preferred the ‘kora bhaja’ or slightly overdone ones) lest those be given away to the guests. The guests, on the other hand, praised so much that we felt compelled to offer a 3rd or 4th helping, though each being quite filling. But Bengalis on those days knew how to eat and digest and keep diabetes at bay. As the years went by, the home visits tradition during Bijoya Dashami started to dwindle with the extended family and friends moving to the other parts of the world.
With her advanced age, mom’s malpua has gradually got restricted to the annual ‘pithey utsab’ held at the Anderson Club where the lady members put up stalls offering homemade winter delicacies. The malpuas we make are so cherished that pre-bookings are done days in advance. I made my mom (who is 75 now) prepare a few malpuas so that I could take pictures for my blog post. She obliged despite the cumbersome process of condensing the milk for hours to turn it into a thick kheer. And no, we don’t adopt any short cuts as that will compromise the taste.
Till day, malpua remains my favourite-est dessert and I think will remain so forever. The recipe of this ‘going extinct’ Bengali dessert has been handed over to me and my sis (another brilliant cook in the family) and we try to do justice to it. I sometimes serve it with vanilla or butterscotch ice cream and sprinkle some chopped dry fruits over the top. With winter arriving early this year, my happy heart wanted to share with you this sweet nostalgia of mine.
Have you ever tasted a malpua? What has been your best malpua memory? Do you too have a secret heirloom recipe for malpua? I look forward to hearing your stories. Do share in the comment section.
- Malpua is India’s oldest known dessert. The first reference to these sweetmeats is in the Rigveda where it is called apupa. Rigveda, the oldest of four Vedas, even mentions the recipe of the apupa. It was made with barley flour, fashioned into flat cakes, fried in ghee or boiled in water and then dipped in honey before serving.
- Over centuries, apupas incorporated varied cultural influences and took the form of malpua. Today, the malpua is a must have during festivals like Holi, Diwali and the Ramadan. This is one dish that is famous in almost all Indian states but the method of preparation differs from region to region.
- In the state of Odisha, in the famous Jagannath temple in Puri, the malpua is offered to the main deity Lord Jagannath as the very first or the early morning offering. Amalu (Malpua) is one of the Chappan Bhoga, the traditional food offered daily to Lord Jagannath.
- In West Bengal, almost like an inseparable ritual, malpua is made in the winter months along with pithey (Bengali sweet).
- Malpua is eaten in different forms across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.