In many ways I'm not very good at being a Bengali. I don't merrily chomp through fish heads, and there is no Rabindra Sangeet on my ipod. However there is one way in which I am very Bengali, and that is my love of mishti, Indian sweets or mithai.
As a child I baulked at my mum's thin, yellow macher jhol fish curry and fried bitter gourd uchay bhaja, but was happy to scoff down homemade syrupy sweet gulab jam or roshogolla. It's actually quite unusual for Bengalis to make many sweets at home, as back in Calcutta pretty much every neighbourhood has its own local sweet shop for all your mishti needs. Unfortunately an equivalent was very much lacking in the Cambridge of the 70's and 80's, so I was dependent on my mum's skills in this area and the occasional trip to the Ambala Sweet Centre in London for my fix. There are many branches of Ambala across London now, but the original shop is on Drummond Street. This is dangerously close to King's Cross Station, and I have to restrain myself from visiting on every single trip to London. Amabala is not a Bengali shop, but I'm not parochial in my mishti enjoyment, so anywhere selling jelebis, burfis and ladoos is fine by me.
Here's what I picked up on my most recent trip:
Ladoos! Probably my favourite Indian sweet, ladoos are made from fried gram flour soaked in syrup. The chickpea at its finest in my opinion.
Burfi! In this case chocolate and pistachio. The chocolate ones are a bit of a Western innovation, which involves pouring a thin layer of chocolate over a plain burfi. My sort of fusion cooking.
Indian sweets do have a reputation for being almost painfully sweet, and indeed some are. But there also some beautiful flavours of cardamom, cashew and pistachio, the richness of milk and cream, and textures that range from crumbly or softly spongy, to crispy. So as a change from the mince pies and chocolate yule logs that I might be consuming in the forthcoming festive season, I may well have a ladoo too. And with Christmas in mind, a selection of Indian sweets would make a top gift (nb they freeze very well, so you don't actually have to eat them all immediately).
Ambala also sell a range of savoury food, (I've written about their samosas before). And if you can't get to one of their many shops you can also order online (though not the samosas sadly).