Kakasura Madappa, the royal chef of Maharaja Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, was in a fix. The 19th century ruler of the Mysore Kingdom had an elaborate lunch, for which everything was prepared, sans the dessert. In a bout of hurried effort, Madappa served a syrup, made from a mixture of ghee, gram flour and sugar. By the time the king moved in to wrap his meal with something sweet, the chef’s ingenuous concoction had solidified on the thali. The king, unaware of the fiasco, seemed to be dazzled by this melt-in-your-mouth sweetmeat. He turned to Madappa for the name of the dessert. Out came the words -Mysore Paka.
There are alternate stories that credit the king for naming this dessert that is an iconic symbol of South India’s history of sweets. Whether it was the erstwhile king of Mysore that called it Mysore Paka (Paka in Kannada means sweet) or his humble chef, one thing is for certain - the delicacy has continued to tell its tale almost a century later.
The Humble Pak
There is little in Mysore Pak in terms of ingredients that merit the royal treatment it was granted. But the king (a food connoisseur who maintained an elaborate kitchen at Amba Vilas Palace) loved the flavour so much, he wanted his citizens to partake in the experience, thus asking his chef to start a sweet shop right outside the palace. This was the beginning of Mysore Pak’s incredible journey across South India.
What once was a recipe of the royal kitchen is now a regular fare in kitchens across the southern states, many of them selling what they believe is the perfect Mysore Pak. The most iconic kitchen, though, is a deceptively small store run by the descendants of Madappa himself.
Guru Sweet Mart
The trio of Kumar, Natraj and Shivananda run the modest store, selling the best Mysore Pak in the city; the recipe for the perfectly-made, soft and texturous sweet is kept safely like a state secret. Started originally as Desikendra Sweet Stall on Ashoka Road, the sweet mart was later moved to Sayyaji Rao Road, and called Guru Sweets. The store today is thronged by loyal patrons all year round. Shivananda, however, tells a slightly different story when asked about the origin of the delicacy.
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What’s In A Name?
Contrary to popular belief, Shivananda asserts that Mysore Pak was not an accidental discovery by Madappa; instead it was created at the behest of the king. The name Mysore Pak, came from the word Paka, which was derived from the word ‘Nalapaka’ (The head chef in those days was called nalapaka). The original recipe, Shivananda says, was passed onto his family, which has continued the sweet tradition ever since. They source the butter from local sellers and turn it into ghee, before adding turmeric, sugar and cardamom to the mix and churning out warm mithai that is brought from their home to the shop ever so often.
Mysore Pak’s Many Flavours
While the brothers at Guru Sweets consider their recipe to be the Holy Grail, Mysore Pak has rendered itself to many varieties today; there is a special Ghee Mysore Pak, a vegan Mysore Pak, Carrot Mysore Pak and a sugar free version as well. In Tamil Nadu, Sri Krishna Sweets transformed the traditional Mysore Pak into Mysurpa, a special sweet that is their signature dish. Astonishingly, in 2016, they had a world record on Mysurpa Day (20 September) by selling 13,188 kg of the sweetmeat in under 3 hours.
But the legacy of the sweet was briefly under attack in 2016, where flared tensions between India and Pakistan propelled many citizens to demand boycotts of Mysore Pak, Karachi Halwa, Lahori Namak and other delicacies that bore any semblance to our estranged neighbour’s name. Thankfully, the movement died down without much ado.
Regardless of its origin story, there is no denying that Mysore Pak is an irresistible ambassador of India’s rich culinary history to the rest of the world, and continues to rule our palate even today.