Kolkata,  Recipes

Notun Gurer Payesh/Traditional Bengali Rice Pudding | Remembering My Dida

Today’s dish is special and very primitive. The only other way to explain the importance of a traditional Payesh/Rice Pudding is to compare it with Champagne. If you can understand the importance of Champagne to bring in a family celebration then you can probably understand the importance of Payesh. Or say, cutting a cake on a birthday. For a Bengali, a spoonful of Payesh is a must on a special occasion. Also, the first spoon of non-solid food that goes into a Bengali child during Annaprashan or the First Rice is Payesh.

Annaprashan’ or the First Rice
The first ceremony or celebration that a Bengali child witnesses is Annaprashan or the ‘First Rice’. This Bengali tradition initiates an infant of barely 5 months and a little above to his/her first intake of food other than milk. And what a royal initiation it is!

The first vision of ‘solid food’ comes in the shape and size and form –
♦ Drops of Ghee (traditional Indian clarified butter)
♦ Payesh (a sweet dessert made with rice, milk & sugar)
♦ Shukto/Bitter vegetable preparation
♦ 5 types of Bhaja or fries – Aloo bhaja/Potato fries, Potol bhaja/Parwal fries, Kumro bhaja/Pumpkin fries, Begun bhaja/Eggplant fries, Uuche bhaja/Bitter-gourd fries
♦ Torkari or an assorted vegetable dish
♦ Daal or lentil soup
♦ Chutney, a sweet sign-off and ofcourse a variety of FISH preparation accompanied by Yes, a FISH-HEAD and a FISH-TAIL!

So, the groundwork for the Bengali taste buds’ perpetual yearning for FOOD is already built at almost infancy. And Payesh is celebrity dish that cuts the ribbon in an opening ceremony!

Payesh also brings in lots of memories of my childhood, specially Dida, my maternal grandma. Though I have been making Payesh every now and then, I always feel that something is missing in it. Maybe, it’s the additional magic aromas that went into her Payesh as she stood stirring the ladle in a heated up kitchen, in-front of the gas burners. And much before the gas burners came in she would be hovering over an Unun/Small Portable Clay furnace which required probably an hour of fanning just to set the fire right. She was an amazing lady with equally amazing morals and ethics. Probably that’s why her name was Niti which actually means ‘morals or ethics’. Well, this is not really about remembering my beloved Dida who’s no more, but trying to understand the psyche of a woman whose only demonstration of love for her 7 children and their children was through cooking. And cooking here doesn’t mean just a basic meal, but intricately designed savouries and snacks, sweets and pickles and a whole lot of tit-bits. If she made a particular sweet mango pickle for me, she would make also sure she made the other kind which my cousin Swati liked. If Rohu fish was for me, Pomfret was for her. She made sure that each of her grandchildren got a special food. And then she would sit at the end of the green dining table in my Mamar Bari (traditionally the son, the Mama or the Maternal Uncle looks after the grandparents, hence grandparents’ house would be affectionately known as Mamar Bari) and supervise our eating. ‘Aro nibi?/Do you want more?’ and ‘Ne na aaro/Do take some more!’ would alternate between additional servings till we would cringe and roll down our dining chairs.

Dida was beautiful. She came from Bhatpara, which is a suburban town and a municipality under North 24 Parganas, a district in the state of Bengal, India. Situated on the bank of Ganges or the Hooghly river, Bhatpara is known for its rich traditions and renowned for its Sanskrit cultural heritage and learning. There are a number of sweet shops in Bhatpara and the residents and the descendents with any association with this place is famous for their sweet tooth. Rasgullas or Rôshogollas (the most famous Bengali sweet and my favourite topic to write on) from Bhatpara would be coated with actual sugar particles – taking the intensity of the Bengali sweetness to a different category. Hence, it wasn’t unusual that my beloved Dida was an expert in making sweets and sweet pickles. As I have mentioned before, she made elaborate Bengali Sweets which looked and tasted equally awesome. The laborious process in making these took most of her days and probably night too. We would wait to see what sweets she had specially prepared for us. Just to ease the pain of a very serious issue, it is hence not unusual that she took Insulin injections till her very last day along with probably one ‘sweet something’ that followed her meals!

Notun Gurer Payesh/Rice Pudding with Season-Fresh Jaggery

Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Payesh can be made in many different ways. This is a traditional Payesh where Notun Gur or Nolen Gur/Date Jaggery is used as the sweetener instead of sugar. This Jaggery is traditionally available fresh during the winters, hence Notun Gur (literal translation is New Jaggery) or the season fresh Jaggery is something that everyone would wait for. The smoky aroma and the earthy colour of the Payesh is something that one looks out for. A sweet little note with pictures on how the palm sap is collected to make the Jaggery.

Here, in Dubai the date syrup is available in abundance – they are available in bottles in most supermarkets. Needless to say that this syrup suffices for Notun Gur almost perfectly!

Following are the characteristics of all recipes doling out of our little hands, big hearth
♥ Easy to cook
♥ Regular canned products off the shelf may be used (However, we advocate using fresh products)
♥ Goes well both as a regular or party dish
♥ Children can easily help in making the dish (My two little sous-chéfs are aged 8 and 3 years!)
♥ And lastly, guaranteed to be tasty!

For the printable recipe→

Serves 6-8 persons (maybe less if they happen to be sweet-toothed Bengalis!)

Preparation time – 1 hr 30 minutes maximum (Boiling the milk with Rice and thickening it by constant stirring – 45-50 minutes; setting up – 10 minutes; Refrigeration – 30 minutes)

Low-fat Milk – 2 lt (Many prefer to use sweetened condense milk – in that case you will need much less milk. But I find Jaggery losing it’s uniqueness amidst the existing sweetness)
Jaggery – 5 one and a half inch square cubes or 1 cup of Date Syrup

Sugar – optional
Pistachios – 1/4 cup
Raisins – 1/4 cup, soaked in Water
Cashew nuts – 1/2 cup, unsalted
Fragrant White Rice – 1 cup*

* The fragrant Rice that is traditionally used in making the Bengali Payesh is a special type of rice called Gobindobhog. Wikipedia defines it as ‘Gobindobhog is a rice referenced in ancient Indian literature. It was used as an offering to the gods because it was known to be, “The rice preferred by the gods”. It is a short grain, white, aromatic, sticky rice. It is grown traditionally in West Bengal, India. It has many traditional Bengali recipes intended for it specifically. It has a sweet buttery flavor and a potent aroma.’

Method of Preparation
– Soak the Rice in water for some time and drain out
– Boil the Milk in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan (Dekchis are usually used for cooking Rice. Please note that Payesh is always made in utensils meant for cooking Rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of it’s susceptibility to catching the smell of other cooked items. Constant stirring is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt)
– Add the Rice when the milk comes to a boil
– Keep on stirring so that the Rice is boiled properly and the Milk thickens
– Add the Jaggery only at the end, otherwise there is a risk of the Milk getting spoilt. Once the Jaggery has been added the milk shouldn’t be boiled further. Some prefer to add a bit of Sugar along with the Jaggery.
– Garnish with Pistachios, raising, Cashew Nuts. Serve it cold. However, some prefer to eat this Payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire!

Nostalgic accompaniment

Though this is served as an independent dessert and is made in almost all auspicious Bengali occasions and ceremonies, it complements brilliantly with Luchis. My ode to Luchis has been featured in Ahlan! Gourmet. {My ode to Luchis…} Luchis are deep-fried flat-breads made of wheat flour shown in the left. Or, say Muri/Puffed Rice, specially the day after the Payesh has been made and has thickened and set in brilliantly. Well, please ignore the last part if you are used to eating fresh food!

Availability of Notun Gur and Gobindobhog outside India
Our stint in Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai suggests that if these are available outside India, they can only be found in Bangladeshi shops and Asian supermarkets selling Bangladeshi products. I use the Date Syrup as a perfect substitute for Notun Gur and there is a type of rice which comes from Bangladesh – the Chinigura Rice (similar to Basmati and Jasmine rice but with very tiny, short grains, resembling sushi rice). The latter, though less fragrant than Gobindobhog Rice is easily available in Bangladeshi shops in the Sharjah Backet. But frankly, you may use a fragrant Basmati rice as well… after all it’s the journey with all it’s imperfections that will stay in the memory, not the perfect tit-bits!

The recipe on Notun Gurer Payesh is nothing new. There must be many many more floating in the internet. And definitely much better recipes than mine. But this post is special. This is my first post remembering a very special lady in my life who’s probably smiling from somewhere above as she sees her beautiful B/W picture scanned, brightened, trimmed and uploaded in this post. My parents are visiting us now and my daily routine is filled with my Mum scolding me non-stop as my Dad affectionately walks up and down, simply smiling and probably enjoying all the fuss. I am back to my school-days and college days. ‘Beshi kore Jol khao, ki bhishon gorom poreche/Drink lots of water, it’s so hot now!’, ‘Ebare ghumiye poro to/Now go to sleep!’, ‘Shabdhane gari chalabe/Drive carefully!’ etc.

Suddenly the Z-SISTERS and I – we seem to be of the same age, all of  us being prodded by our respective Mums! They are continuously discussing and swapping and trading the gifts that Ma-Baba and my li’l Bro has brought for them. This is where my childhood was different. Dida showered us with her affection and love, not through gifts but by an energy of love that she emitted. But then the reason why I am capturing this traditional Payesh in my post is because the Z-SISTERS, like me, are watching their Dida in awe as she makes the Payesh – stirring the ladle continuously so that the Payesh doesn’t burn at the bottom. It is kind of a déja-vu… I see a sudden reflection of my Dida in her. Do enjoy more pictures on my Mum’s Payesh making.

Somethings will change in our lives. But, I am happy knowing that somethings will remain the same forever!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

It does take lot of effort to capture these in text and pictures. While it’s meant for you to enjoy them, may I request you not to use them!

Bengali Food Banters you’ll find in my blog:
Traditional Bengali Cuisine… In ‘Slight’ Details! – An etymological explanation to the Bengalis’ food festish
♦ Pickles… Mother (-in-law) Of All Pickles! – My Pickle Nostalgia
♦ Momos in Tiretti Bazar – The Last Chinese Remnants! – A chinese Bazar near Poddar Court
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – An ode to Dilipda’s ‘world-famous’ Phuchka
Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel! – Gujia, Jibe Goja, Abaar Khabo & Jolbhora
Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) – Bengali’s Own Sweet – An essay on the most famous Bengali Sweet

Bengali Food Recipes you’ll find in my blog: (Do click on Recipes, Reviews, Events for a complete list of all food banters)
Frozen Aam Pana/Green Mango Pulp… The Change Initiative Inspiration!  – Traditional Bengali/Indian
Locavorism, Friday Market & Tok Palong/Sour Spinach Chutney – Traditional Bengali
Semaiya Kheer/Vermicelli Pudding, Eid in Dubai… Eid Mubarak! – Indian
Mutton Kassa With Red Wine And Red Grapes – Bengali Fusion
♦ Khichuri As Harbinger of Hope & Kolkata Soaked In Rains – Traditional Bengali/Indian
♦ Hot Garlic Pickle… The Pickled Diary – Episode 1 – Indian Pickle
♦ Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama? – Indian Dessert
♦ A Tale of 2 Cities & Naru/Coconut Jaggery Truffles – Traditional Bengali
♦ Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park – Indian Street-food/Snacks
Kaancha Aamer Chutney/Green Mango Chutney – Traditional Bengali
Rasgulla Macapuno – When a Filipina Turns Bong! – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
Mango Lentil Soup/ Aam Dal – The Summer Combat – Dal; Traditional Bengali
Easter Egg Curry – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion/Traditional Bengali/Continental
Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
Yoghurt Aubergine with Pomegranate – Side-dish; Bengali Fusion
Purple Haze Yoghurt with Purple M&Ms – Dessert; Bengali Fusion
Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce – Dessert; Bengali Fusion


Leave a Reply to Sarah - the hedonista Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: