The Curious Case of Gondhoraj

Have you heard of Gondhoraj? Of a scent that has allured people all around the globe and inspired restaurateurs to create amazingly fragrant dishes. Gondhoraj is literally ’emperor of aroma’ and there’s not a soul that would refute its nomenclature. Recent articles have termed the Gondhoraj as a distant cousin of the Kaffir lime. While K lime is found in tropical Asia, including India, Gondhoraj originates in Rangpur, Bangladesh. Anjan Chatterjee, founder of the Speciality chain of restaurants, fondly calls it ‘Rangpur Lime’ and asserts that it has failed to grow in climates and regions beyond far-eastern Indian subcontinent. Much has been written about this (sub)lime citrus fruit that has totally ruled Bengal and beyond.


Photo courtesy: Neha Banerjee

I’ll leave behind the history and background of Gondhoraj at this point as I’m not much aware. Growing up in Bengal, it is quite impossible not to be swayed by the whiff and tang of this lime. It represented summer all throughout my childhood, but global warming has made summer the ruler of all seasons in Bengal now. As a result, Gondhoraj is grown all over the year for its use in posh Bengali restaurants and even mid-tier ones that serve Gondhoraj mocktails, while the lime is still available for Rs 5 at Gariahat Market. I haven’t tasted those mocktails, but I’ve had the luxury to use Gondhoraj juice into a pot of tea, chucking the milk. Trust me, it tastes as good as plain lemon tea, and even better, if you’d ask me.

I’m more than certain of ageing and young-life crisis when I see Gondhoraj being termed as exotic and used in expensive fusion food and beverage. My brain and memories have mapped Gondhoraj with summer vacations and Doordarshan Bangla airing stellar movies like Rituporno Ghosh’s Hirer Angti. Oh yes, I’m the last generation of dinosaurs having watched only Doordarshan on television for 16 years. Summer vacation was a boon as the bookworm in me was resurrected and never tired of holding a book all day for a month, while managing stupid chores like eating in between. The usual daal-bhaat-macher jhol meal seemed to be a tedious chore that lasted for half an hour in the abominable heat. My only refute was a frequent tnetul er achar (tamarind pickle, sweet) or lebu patar tawk to end the meal with. While the achar was made in the usual process and stored in glass jars for rest of the year, lebu patar tawk was a daily affair. Once I began getting old enough to be interested in food, I used to persuade mother to prepare the tawk and put it in the refrigerator half an hour before lunch. When the tangy sweet runny liquid traversed the interiors of my gut, I believed it was the best coolant for a summer lunch. Weirdly enough, Bengalis drink, gulp or mix their chutneys/tawks with rice at the end of lunch – contrary to the western habit of mocktails or aperitifs.

Gondhoraj leaves (lebu pata). Photo courtesy: Neha Banerjee

Gondhoraj leaves (lebu pata). Photo courtesy: Neha Banerjee

I had to call up mother for this recipe as I haven’t had this lebu patar tawk in about 18 years or so.

Tamarind – if you procure dry ones, soak in a little water for an hour. If you get fresh ones, make a paste (about 2 T)

Mustard seeds – a pinch

Turmeric powder – a pinch

Sugar/jaggery, Salt, Water, Oil

Gondhoraj leaves – 3 to 4

How to – Heat oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds, let them splutter. Add 2 T tamarind paste, mix well. Add the turmeric powder, salt, sugar/jaggery, mix well. Add sufficient water and let it boil for a few minutes. Simmer and cook till there’s a homogeneous liquid. Drop the Gondhoraj leaves as garnish and switch off the gas. Serve chilled for best results.

If you’re lucky enough to fetch Gondhoraj leaves from Bengal, do try this tawk at home. It is a wonderful coolant to soothe off the heat. Gondhoraj is sold in the Bengali sweet shops in Pune too, priced at Rs 20 a piece. But you won’t find even dried leaves here. I have no photo of Lebu Patar Tawk with me, but I promise you one as soon as I can make it.

Try the recipe and let me know how it turned out. 

(might be continued)


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52 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Gondhoraj

  1. First, gondhoraj sounded like a place, more like a royal kingdom, then as I read forward it sunk in slowly. It’s an exquisite name alright, and your introduction to it makes gondhoraj seem even more exotic. And despite of what it is, being of Northern origin it might not be possible for a Mumbaikar to taste making it more exotic. Unless it grows here too.. Or is being grow here through modifications or is imported! In the case of the latter I wouldn’t mind trying it. Also got to learn many new words there! Awesome piece.


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