You often start rediscovering your hometown when you are living away, find a few new gems in and around, and take pride in a few wonders that may have gone unnoticed when you were in town. Shaktigarh in Bardhaman district of West Bengal, is one such gem, which houses the sweet factories serving the heavenly Langcha. For the uninitiated, Langcha is a sweet dish akin to Gulab Jamun, but longitudinal in shape and softer.
Situated about 91 km from Kolkata, along GT Road or NH2-Durgapur Expressway, Shaktigarh is a mandatory stopover for people travelling on this route. Buses, cars, trucks, and private vehicles plying to and fro from Asansol to Kolkata, take a halt not just to take a short break, but the passengers too like to relish the Langcha and take some home for their family and friends.
If you happen to visit the eastern part of the country, you’ll find shops selling the sweet in some parts of Odisha and Assam apart from West Bengal. But there’s something irresistible about Shaktigarh Langchas. Dotting this part of the highway, shops with signboards like Lancha Bhaban, Lancha Bhuban, Lancha Niketan, Ali Lancha Palace, Lancha Sagar, Lancha Mahal, Lancha Dham, Lancha Home, Lancha Hall, Lancha House etc entice customers. However, the shops prefer spelling it ‘Lancha’ instead of Langcha.
The story behind the strange name of the sweet, which is believed to have originated in Shaktigarh and first made by a person named Khudiram Dutta, is interesting. Sadek Khan, owner of Adi Lancha Palace, said, “Contrary to its delicious taste, the sweet isn’t great looking nor has a fancy name. It is believed that Langchas became popular when a British officer who had disability in his leg professed his love for the sweet. Since a crippled man is called ‘langra’ in Bengali, the sweet got its name Langcha or Lancha.”
While dexterously packing the sweets for his customers, Khan shared the recipe with us. He explained, “Langcha is made from flour, milk powder and sugar. The flour and milk powder is mixed thoroughly with baking soda and water and made into a dough. While kneading the dough, ghee is added at constant intervals. Mixed well, the dough is kept aside for a few hours. Then the dough is divided into cylindrical shapes. The cylindrical pieces are then deep fried in oil until a brown upper crust is formed. The fried pieces are then boiled in sugar syrup. Once done, they are put into a tub containing cold rose or elaichi flavoured sugar syrup. Soaked for a few hours, the sweet delights are ready to serve. The original recipe mentions chhana, however, milk powder is a good replacement.”
The shops don’t sell Langchas in kilograms but pieces. The small pieces are priced at Rs 5 each and the bigger ones are sold at Rs 10 each. The shops also sell Potol Langcha, which has a special stuffing of khoya, and other popular sweets like Sitabhog, Mihidana, Chhanar Malpua, Bhapa Sandesh and Kalakand (milk cake) and so on.
Khan informed that his shop alone sells about 10,000 pieces of Langcha a day. “We also have customers travelling by flight. So we make sure the packets are sealed properly so that the syrup doesn’t leak. If refrigerated, the Langcha can last up to a week,” he said. Although the business gets a little sluggish during summer, the sweet shops make huge profits during Durga Puja.
During those 10 minutes when our bus halted, we managed to visit another nearby shop Lancha Sagar. While sipping on tea from kulhads, the owner Dipendu Roy Choudhury gave us some insight into other famous sweets. “Nobody forgets to buy or taste Sitabhog, a signature sweet of Bardhaman. Kolkata may be famous for its Roshogollas, but if one wants to taste authentic Sitabhog, it has to be from Bardhaman. Made from chhana, rice flour and sugar, Sitabhog is a flavourful dessert that resembles white rice or vermicelli and is often mixed with small pieces of Gulab Jamun. Another sweet that you cannot give a miss here is Mihidana. It may remind you of Boondi, but this one is finer, softer and a lot more juicer,” said Roy Choudhury with a smile.
It is not just these age-old shops which take pride in their Langchas, customers frequenting the route also feel a sense of loyalty towards Shaktigarh’s sweets. “I have been coming to these shops for more than 35 years now and even though they are underrated when compared to Roshogollas, there is no substitute for Langchas. The government should support the sweet makers who toil hard to keep the legacy alive. Why should the world only identify West Bengali with Roshogollas and Misti Doi? Why not also Langcha, Sitabhog and Mihidana?” wondered 67-year-old Bijan Sarkar.
Fatima Khan, a Calcutta University student who is fond of Langchas, always gets the sweets packed for her roommates whenever she travels from Durgapur to Kolkata. “It’s time they made use of technology and got into ecommerce to sell Langchas to other parts of the country. Their efforts and legacy are getting unnoticed. If other states invite them to be a part of food festivals, I think Langchas and the sweet makers will have better recognition,” suggested the final year MA student.
While a few of the sweet shops do have an online presence, most of them love to follow the traditional way of keeping the legacy of Langcha alive.