Roshogolla aka Rasgulla – A Stolen Bengali Pleasure?
Spongy white balls dunked in syrupy sweetness – Rasgulla has always been considered to be Bengal’s contribution to the sweet lovers, but now tainted with an Odiya claim.
Melodiously pronounced as ‘ro-sho-gol-la’ by the locals, Rasgulla is considered as the undisputed king of sweets. It is made from chena (an Indian style cottage cheese) and semolina dough, kneaded and shaped lovingly into round dumplings which are then simmered in a sugar syrup. This makes the rasgullas soft, spongy and ooze sticky syrupy sweetness from every pore.
Till recently, it was believed that rasgulla originated in West Bengal. In fact, it is believed to have been introduced in Kolkata (previously Calcutta) by a local sweet seller, Haradhan Moiraand. Later in 1868, the recipe was altered slightly by the famous confectioner Nobin Chandra Das whose son eventually founded the iconic sweetmeat chain, ‘K C Das.’
But according to a recent article that appeared in Times of India, this claim has been fiercely disputed by Odisha (previously Orissa) claiming ownership of the rasgulla.
Surya Narayan Rath Sharma, a researcher associated with the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri and Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the temple’s PRO have stated that the rasgulla originated in Puri and has always been offered as ‘prasad’ to Goddess Laxmi during Rath Yatra, a ritual that has been in practice from the 12th century.
But the Bengalis are not going down without putting up a fight. A report has been filed by Animikh Roy (great-great-great grandson of Nobin Das) and historian Haripada Bhowmik to preserve and protect the identity of the Roshogolla as a Bengali sweet. The report also points out the fact that the Odiya claim cannot be true because cheese was taboo in Hinduism and hence a sweet made from chena is highly unlikely as a Brahmanical offering to the Gods.
The whole history of Rasgulla is also fascinating for the fact that chena or the Indian cottage cheese is more likely a Portuguese introduction to India. Food historians have now discovered that the Portuguese introduced three different types of acid-curdled cheeses to Bengal, chena being one of them. Later, the chena also referred to as chhana travelled to North India where it began to be compressed into blocks and eventually took the name ‘paneer’ (Persian name for cheese).
In spite of heated debates and arguments going back and forth, what cannot be denied is the fact that Bengal and Nobin Chandra Das were instrumental in popularizing rasgulla and making it a household name across India, and even globally….
And due credit must also be given to Das for tweaking the recipe and boiling the chena dumplings in syrup which became the key to longer shelf life of the rasgulla and eventually which led to large scale commerce across the country and beyond.
If you were to travel to Odisha today, you are most likely to come across two types of rasgulla. Traditionally it was known as Khiramohana or Kheer Mohan but over the years, this name has also undergone changes. One variant is the famous ‘Bikali Kar Rasgulla’ made by the Kar Brothers (descendants of a famous local confectioner, Bikalananda Kar) near Cuttack. And the other variant is found in the town of Pahala which is a haven for chena based sweets like rasgulla, chenapoda and chenagaja.
Whether Odisha or Bengal, rasgullas were always sold traditionally inside clay pots. K.C.Das began the process of canning rasgullas in tins which were marketed and sold not only in India but also in neighbouring and Western countries. Today, you can easily pick up a can of rasgullas by so many Indian companies including Bikaner sweets and Haldiram’s in any Indian or Asian grocery store across the world.
Rasgullas have come a long way today from its simple form. No trip to Bengal or Kolkata would be complete without trying the rasgullas at K.C.Das situated at the Esplanade crossing. If you like citrusy flavours, then the Kamalabhog (orange flavoured rasgulla) is also a must try at K.C.Das.
A decadent version of the Rasgulla is the Rajabhog/Rajbhog, where ingredients like saffron, dried fruits, rosewater and exotic spices are added. Usually prepared during the festival seasons, the Rajbhog is an indulgence of the senses.
If you are a cream lover, then head to Dwarik´ Sweets located on Ashutosh Mukherjee Road in Kolkata for their famous ‘Kachagolla’ which are small rasgullas immersed in cream.
Visiting Kolkata during the winter months means heading to Nalin Chandra Das and Sons on Ramdulal Sarkar Sweets for the ‘Notun Gurer Roshogollas.’ These are seasonal and the rasgullas are beige coloured made using the season’s fresh jaggery.
The Rasmalai is another much loved variant of the Rasgulla; instead of the sugar syrup, the dumplings are dunked in sweetened milk. Experience this tantalizing experience at Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy on Ramdulal Sarkar Street.
There are several restaurants and sweet shops now experimenting with serving rasgullas in different versions as opposed to the traditional way of serving it at room temperature. While some of them serve it sizzling hot, an experience not to be missed out on is at 6 Ballygunge Place, a popular Bengali restaurant which serves a delicious ‘Notun Gurer Roshogolla Icecream.’
And to take the sweet kick to a whole new level, visit the suburban town of Bhatpara in Bengal where the rasgullas are coated with actual sugar particles!
Dhanya Samuel – A food writer, recipe developer, blogger and freelance journalist, her creative playground is ‘The Spice Adventuress’. When she is not cooking up a storm in the kitchen, you can find her experimenting with spices, exploring the local library or wandering around local farmers markets. For more of Dhanya’s work, follow her onhttp://thespiceadventuress.com/