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History behind the rosogolla

Zubin D’souza

Of late the Indian culinary world is in the midst of a gripping drama that has been unfolding with strange twists and turns. Things came to a head on July 30, 2015. Two neighbouring states – Bengal and Orissa have both laid claim to the invention of the rasgulla which is a sweet that is loved by many in India and the world over. On July 30, both states declared a Rasgulla or Roshogolla Day and applied for the rasgulla to be protected and restricted to the geographical boundaries of their state.

Rasgulla is a diabetes inducing, cavity forming dessert that does not shy neither on the calories nor on the amount of sugar that it requires. In fact, there probably isn’t a rasgulla that can be deemed ‘too sweet’.

Rasgullas are dumplings made up of a mixture of chenna (which are the milk solids obtained after deliberately curdling milk to form a soft white cheese) and semolina which is then dropped in boiling hot sugar syrup till it soaks in all the sugar it can possibly store and becomes rather fluffy.

Now according to some Oriyas (as the residents of Orissa are known as), the original dessert was known as ‘khiramohana’ and was offered as part of the rituals to the Goddess Lakshmi at the Jagannath Temple in Puri to appease her after she gets miffed with her husband for taking a nine-day trip through the city without her. This later evolved into the Pahala roshogolla which was made in a place called Pahala (actually this was a no-brainer) which lies on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar.

Apparently the Pahala roshogolla has another piece of folklore attached. The cows in the town of Pahala were giving extra milk and the residents had no option but to keep throwing out the excess. So one fine day, a priest from the Jagannath temple saw them wasting the milk and thought that instead of doing that they were better off fighting the effects of diabetes and taught them the process of making the soft cheese called chenna.

Many Bengali households had cooks who hailed from Orissa and the Oriyas believe that the recipe travelled to Bengal through them.

Obviously the Bengalis have debunked this theory. Their historians have proved that the art of cheese making came to India with the Portuguese and there was no way that this recipe could have dated back to the 12th century. They also go so far as to make it a point to say that there is no mention of this sweet in the list of the ‘chhapan bhog’ which are the ritual 56 food offerings.

Then the Bengalis go further to mention one of their most illustrious son’s – Nobin Chandra Das. 

Everyone who goes to Kolkata does not return until they have completed a unique pilgrimage. They pay homage to one of the most famous Bengali confections, the ‘Roshogolla’. The roshogolla or rasgulla has a time-honoured altar – the sweet shop of K C Das and Sons.

Although the K C Das and Sons brand has gone global, they would not have managed had it not been for the sheer innovativeness and creativity of a noble ancestor called Nobin Chandra Das.

Nobin Chandra Das was born into a family that at one time had controlled the entire sugar industry in Bengal. The passage of time and declining family fortunes denied young Das the prosperity of his predecessors.

When he was born in 1846, Nobin Chandra Das had lost his father three months prior. Since a formal education could not have been completed on the limited family resources, he set up a sweet shop in 1864 in Jorsanko, Kolkatta. The shop was doomed
to fail. Not one to give up, a second venture took birth in 1866 in Baghbazar, Kolkata. This shop did moderately well. Charged up to do something more worthwhile in his life and probably to leave an inedible mark, the young Nobin conceived of the rasgulla in 1868. At a time when the ‘sandesh’ reigned supreme in Bengal, the syrupy rasgulla stood out in stark contrast.

Now although the rasgulla does bear a passing resemblance to the Pahala roshogolla, it is perfectly conceivable that Nobin invented the present and more popular avatar.

Now although this does not solve the issue of who is the rightful original inventor, many like me are totally against the idea of restricting the original to a particular region. It now belongs to the world, to all of us and all my dentists and cardiologists agree!

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