“A Sweet Taste of Terroir”
by Tania Banerjee
Whetstone Magazine, April 8, 2021
Moa: A dessert in West Bengal that smells of winter
In the Indian tourism advertisement campaigns, the state of West Bengal is branded as the ‘sweetest part of India’. Every lane in West Bengal, no matter how quiet and sleepy, features at least one sweet shop. Joynagarer moa (Joynagarer= from Joynagar), is a seasonal sweet that decks the counters of these shops for a brief period—the winter months of (late) November, December, January and February.
Most of the sweets that West Bengal is popular for are made with curdled milk. They have colonial origins. However, moa is not among them. Joynagar is a town around 50 kilometres south of Kolkata(the capital of West Bengal). Here, a special kind of rice called ‘Kanakchur’ is harvested in winter. Also, in this region, aromatic nolen gur (date-palm jaggery) is tapped from the trunk of wild date-palm trees in late autumn and winter— the two instrumental ingredients that go into moa making.
The sticky jaggery is poured all over the puffed rice of the Kanakchur variety. Khoa kheer (solidified milk made by heating) is sprinkled over it. The mixture is greased by gawa ghee(clarified butter made of cow’s milk) and rolled into a ball. Poppy seeds, crushed pistachios, cashews, and raisins garnish the final product.
Previously, moa was manufactured and enjoyed by the locals at a micro level(around Joynagar) and only sold to outsiders at haats (weekly markets) of the regional villages. In 1929, the first moa shop was opened in Joynagar giving the sweet its first branding and paving the path to its popularity within the state.
During winter months, Joynagarer moa is found in all sweet shops across the state; however, many of them are fake (particularly in Kolkata)—they neither use Kanakchur rice or date palm jaggery, nor are they authentically made in Joynagar. This forced the government to give Geographical Indication to Joynagarer moa. Very few people outside the state are aware of this sweet.
Would you be interested in a story on winter’s favourite sweet for West Bengal, the moa?