Anyone with a sweet tooth knows that the much-beloved Mysore Pak broadly comes in two varieties — the “wet”, ghee-infused, fudgy versions that have come to dominate cities today (think the Sri Krishna Sweets’ Mysurpa), and the powdery, porous blocks that small stores and restaurants sell from glass jars. Fans of Mysore Pak are typically fans of one variety or the other.
But the best Mysore Pak sits somewhere in between the two extremes. It is found, as any Mysorean will tell you, at the modest premises of Guru Sweet Mart on Sayyaji Rao Road.
For over 74 years, the small cornershop has retained a loyal following on the basis of its legendary Mysore Pak. The owners of the store are descendants of the royal cook Kakasura Madappa, who is credited with inventing the sweet. Fifty-one-year-old Natraj, one of the three current owners, mans the store in the afternoons. He tells me that one day Kakasura Madappa (his great grandfather) was asked by the king to produce a “different” sweet, one that would go by the name of Mysore. “The cook used to be called nalapaka — he who makes the paka, or sugar syrup,” says Natraj. “So he cooked up this dish and called it Mysore Pak.”
The sweets are made at the brothers’ ancestral home, located on a calm street a little distance away from the central market area. They are then transported through the day to the store, based on demand.
At the store, do not stand looking for some visual sign of the Mysore Pak’s centrality to the store; you will not find it in the display of milk burfis, jahangirs, savouries and other sweets; still-warm trays of the “special” Mysore Pak are stacked on the ground. The sweet is so well-known it needn’t be prominently displayed.
Of course, in Mysore, the Mysore Pak is everywhere: we ran into stores offering “butter Mysore Pak” every so often, especially on the busy Sayyaji Rao Road or Devaraj Urs Road. These roads are home to stores like Mahalaxmi Sweets, Annex Bombay Tiffanys and Indra Sweets, all of which dispense their own competent versions of the Mysore Pak. The cumulative effect of going food-tripping through all these stores is to induce a sugar coma in all but the most iron-stomached: the crumbly morsel of Mysore Pak we sample at Mahalaxmi Sweets is an immediate hit of sugar, while it’s the unctuousness of butter that glimmers through at Indra Sweets.
Over the years, the regular clientele has inevitably had to face the health consequences of fatty sweet treats. But unlike other sweet vendors, the folks at Guru Sweets aren’t willing to jump on the “low sugar” bandwagon. “The taste is just not the same,” says Natraj.
If you’re lucky, whichever of the three brothers is currently at the stall will hand you two squares of the sweet on a piece of newspaper. The fresh smell of toasty butter gives us the first hint that this isn’t some measly sample amount. Once we plop the gooey sweet into our mouths, we realise the deep richness that a simple mix of ghee-sugar-flour can carry. There is no sign of pastiness or crumbliness, the flaws of the “wet” and “dry” varieties respectively. It’s the perfect symphony of texture, temperature and flavour: melt-in-mouth, warm and not-too-sweet.
Selected with care
At least part of this exquisite combination must result from the care with which the brothers select and prepare the Mysore Pak’s few ingredients. The butter is sourced from traditional vendors, and then melted into ghee — no readymade ghee is used. Even the gram flour is ground in-house. Sugar, cardamom and turmeric are bought. “That we can’t help,” laughs Natraj.
All this results in a delicately textured sweet that is not sold as individual blocks but in mass quantities. The best way to eat the best Mysore Pak, we discover, is to scoop out the desired amount with a spoon, warm briefly in a microwave or a double-boiler, and dig in (a method endorsed by the store owners themselves).
HOW IT’S MADE
Natraj was reluctant to scale down quantities for home-proportion results, but a rough recipe is as follows:
Make sugar syrup with two parts sugar and half part water (this is the paaka that gives the sweet its name). Stirring constantly, add one part gram flour. Add turmeric for colour and powdered cardamom if desired. After the mixture boils, add one part ghee. Allow it to cook, turn out into a large pan and then cool for 45 minutes to an hour. Eat warm.
A fortnightly feature on food and the places that made them famous.