Rabri is one of the most in demand desserts of Kolkata but there is a strange story associated with it. 75 percent of all the Rabri that are available in all the shops in Kolkata are made in a small village around 35 km away from the city. Gangpur – which is now more popularly known as the Rabri Gram.
The drive to the village is beautiful in itself even without the story associated with it. The village is covered with paddy fields on all sides some of which have been cut, and the others waiting for their turn. Even with a fertile soil, the major occupation for 40 out of the 50 odd families living there are making Rabris on a day to day basis.
It all started 27 years ago. An experienced maira (One who is the creator of sweets) thought that he can do better than just sit in a single shop and create Rabris for them and decided to go the freelancer way. He lived in this village, so he started from his home and people from his village followed suit. Now he has passed on, but his legacy remains.
Rabri although delectable, is not an extremely easy thing to make. Specially when you have to fulfil orders from 20-30 shops on a daily basis. There is always milk boiling in the huge kadhais on a coal fired oven and you have to constantly cater to that. This dump of coal which is just outside the kitchen, does not last long. Each batch contains 7 litres of milk and needs a person to cater to it constantly through the 90 minute procedure of initially cooling the concoction and then cutting it appropriately and creating the mixture accordingly. It needs expertise that have come through years of practise.
But these people make it look easy. They do it subconsciously, almost as a reflex. Along with that, ever hospitable, they keep talking to their customers. Telling about their lives, stories of the place. Stories of Rabri. They have to constantly pull the sor out on to the body of the kadhai to seperate it out from the liquid milk. A handheld wooden pakha helps them fasten the process a little bit, still each batch takes around one and a half hour to complete.
Once it is done, it is left to cool. Once the Kadhai has cooled down, you have to cut it, and uncle showed us exactly how they do it umpteen times a day. It was a spectacle in itself. Once that is done, all left to do is package it and send it off to the customers.
Each day, each family supplies between 20-30 kg of Rabris to their respective shops. On festive ocassions that shoots upto 50 kgs. It has so happened that on Saptami and Ashtami, the demand from their regular customers were so high that they had to turn down requests for 90 odd new people who had come in to taste their fare.
Apart from this they also make sarvaja, which is as famous with their patrons. The demand for sarvaja shoots through the roof during festive seasons. A shop which orders 100 pieces a day on a daily basis, on the occassion of bhai-phota ordered 1500 pieces. The numbers speak for themselves about the quality of their offering.
But all is not good at this mystic village which concocts delicious desserts as a profession. The corona virus has hit them hard. Because of the unavailability of the local trains, a lot of people cannot travel that far to meet their customers demands. So, before the pandemic, there were around 40 families churning out Rabris everyday. Now the number has come down to 30. Only the fit and able for whom it is possible to travel to Kolkata in a car or bike everyday continue to do so.
Jealousy also runs rampant. Because all of the families in the village are in the same profession, their is a tough competition which sometimes shows its ugly side when different families try to poach each other’s clients or lie about the whereabouts of a confectioner to a patron who has travelled from far off.
However, all the negativity completely disappears when you finally get the result of all the effort in your hand and you can clearly see the difference in taste between a Rabri that has travelled 35 km, sat in the sweet shop for a good while, might have seen the inside of your fridge and the one that is just cut and mixed and served to you. It makes you close your eyes and relish the taste for a while.
The trip was completely worth it. For anyone else interested I am attaching the family we got it from and their contact information. A google map search of Rabri Gram will show you the place. You can easily make it a day outing, the drive, barring a little traffic is beautiful as well. But please carry your own bag and containers if possible. The residents of Gangpur still don’t take banning plastic seriously, let’s try to do our part that they don’t have to wrap everything in plastic sheets for your travel comfort.