A sea of people had gathered around a hole-in-the-wall shop in Mysore's bustling Devaraja Market. Social distancing was obviously not their thing. A local vendor was selling hot pieces of the local favourite, Mysore Pak.
The sweets were handed out on pieces of newspaper. One bite, and we know why the noise here never dies down. The shop, Guru Sweets, is the oldest sweet shop in the city. It was once owned by the ancestors of Kakasura Madappa, who is credited with the invention of Mysore Pak in 1935.
The-golden-coloured, ghee-soaked sweet’s birth was quite accidental. One day, Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who was the king of Mysore between 1894-1940, was expecting special guests. He ordered the royal cook, Kakasura Madappa, to make something special.
Madappa racked his brains and took out three ingredients, ghee, gram flour and sugar. He put them all together in a large cauldron and began roasting the concoction before presenting it to Wadiyar, who liked it so much that he named it Mysore Pak after the city of Mysore. Pak, on the other hand, means pakka (sugar syrup in Kannada).
The king had his cook set up a sweet stall selling Mysore Pak outside his palace so the whole of the city could get a taste of it. As time went by, the shop grew larger and more popular, before Maddappa’s grandson Basavanna moved it from Ashoka Road to Sayyaji Road in 1954, where it is currently located.
The three brothers, Nataraj, Kumar and Shivan, are fourth generation confectioners. They own and manage Guru Sweets which also retails a variety of other sweets, such as dumrot, carrot halwa, kashi halwa. All sweet somethings are made at their ancestral 10-room home located close to the shop.
"Mysore Pak is very popular abroad and we send lots of it all over the world. Of the two varieties made, one with vanaspati and the other with ghee, the latter is more popular," says Shivanand.
The vanaspati variant is grainier and harder, while the ghee variant is soft and has a smooth texture. Nataraj explains why the Guru Sweets Mysore Pak is unique. "While it is available in almost every city of India, ours is different since we are its original creators. It may involve just a play of three ingredients but our style of cooking is original to our family. It’s a 100-year-old recipe after all," he says.
We try to get the recipe out of him. He smiles and leaves us guessing. "It's a closely guarded secret but all I will tell you is that we add turmeric and cardamom powder to the mix," says Nataraj. Over the years, Guru Sweets Mysore Pak has become the best souvenir to carry back from the city.
Vinay Parameswarappa, Founder, Gully Travels, vouches for the same. He has had countless tourists asking to be taken to Guru Sweets to purchase and carry back home a box of sweet memories.
"It became such a popular request that we had to include it in our itinerary. The best time to eat it is when it’s piping hot. It just melts in your mouth," says Parameswarappa. The sweet shop will soon apply for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag. Its legend and popularity call for it.