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Sweets occupy a important place in subcontinental culture — used in religious ceremonies, offered to guests, and eaten with tea at almost any time of day. In Hindi, those sweets, often made from boiled-down milk, cheese curds, and/or nuts, are known as mithai, but in Bengali, they’re called mishti. And although Bengal is now divided into the majority-Hindu Indian state of West Bengal and the majority-Muslim nation of Bangladesh, Bengalis still share an obsession with sweets that rivals any other group.
Last night at Merit Kabob Palace, a 24-hour Bangladeshi diner in Jackson Heights, these fat, beige sweets held pride of place by the cash register, jauntily topped with pistachios. I asked what they’re called, and the guys behind the counter said that they’re a kind of shondesh, a very classic Bengali mishti.
Most shondesh is made with cheese curds and sugar, sometimes with the additions of flavorings like mango puree. Because of the appetizing brown color, I’m guessing that these shondesh are made with nolen gur, the unrefined sap from a date tree. They smell of browned butter, and are fresh tasting, pliant and tender, with a tang of fresh cheese that prevents them from being too sweet.
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