The ancient city of Joynagar-Majilpur derives its name from the local goddess and presiding deity, Ma Joychandi and over time, came to be called Joychandinagar and then Joynagar. Joyangar is popularly known as ‘the cradle of moa’, a unique winter sweet that is placed in high esteem by Bengalis.
It is said that the late Ashutosh Das, a resident of Das Para of Joynagar started the moa industry in 1904 CE. Moa had little acceptability in the local market and so the late Ashutosh Das and others used to go to different villages with a big cane basket full of moa on their heads. Radhaballav Dol was a renowned festival that used to draw many famous personalities of Bengal and it was here that the late Ashutosh Das finally had luck when the locals sampled his delicious moa. The ‘moa of Joynagar’ soon became a favourite and various versions of it were made in different parts of Bengal.
The moa industry is one of the oldest cottage industries of Bengal and is highly labour-intensive. The manufacture of nolen gur (jaggery from date palm juice) is carried out here and is the main ingredient for making moa. Moa is a combination of khoi (puffed rice), nolen gur, gawa ghee, cashew nuts, khoya kheer, cardamom and kismis.
The collection of date tree sap is extremely laborious and done at the crack of dawn. Shuli first make angular incisions on the trunks of the date trees and attach a nol (pipe) at the point of incision and fix an earthen pot at the end of it. The date sap slowly trickles down through the pipe into the pot. This process is repeated after 4 – 5 days as the best quality and smoky effervescent flavour of nolen gur comes in this method of collection. The golden-coloured juice is then slow boiled to produce a thick viscous jaggery called nolen gur (one litre of nolen gur is obtained from boiling 10 litres of date tree sap).
Khoi (puffed rice) is prepared by frying Kanakchur paddy that is cultivated in an organic manner in very few areas in and around Joynagar during the winter season. The khoi is then mixed into the nolen gur in a big iron pot using a wooden ladle once the temperature has dropped. Khoya kheer, pistachio, cashew nuts, kismis, cardamom powder and gawa ghee are added in specific quantities to make the moa.
Ghee is generously applied in the hands to start shaping the moa once the mixture has cooled. This sinfully rich sweet must be had only in Joynagar as the quality of the ingredients sourced here are superb. Joynagar moa was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2015.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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