Quickly name a Bengali sweet – Bang-comes-the-answer - “Rasgulla”.
Well, that is what most people think, but the ‘unofficial national sweet’ of India officially comes from Orissa. A small village called Pahala, very close to Bhuvneshwar, is supposed to be the birth place of rosogolla. This sweet was earlier known as ‘Kheer Mohon’. It has been a tradition in Orissa to offer Rosogolla to Lord Jagannath, during the festivals. This practice has a recorded history of 300 years.
The Pahala or original Oriya Rasgulla are however quite different from the spongy, syrupy balls of sweet, we call rasgulla now. For starters, they look different, Pahala rasogolla are off-white to cream or even yellowish brown in colour. They are crumbly in texture and tend to spoil (sour) in 10 to 12 hours time. This may be the reason why the locals in Orissa prefer to have them hot.
Modern white, spongy tennis ball rasgullas are the invention of Sri Nobin Chandra Das of Kolkata, who altered the Oriya recipe to add shelf life to this sweet. His son K. C. Das in 1868, started canning and selling of rasgullas.
Hence, rasgulla is a relatively modern and ingenious invention of India; a dish which was unknown in the world, when the Sepoy mutiny of 1857 took place or when Napoleon was expanding his empire. Which means it took just 150 years for the sweet to rule the hearts of Indians. This is no small feat, considering Indian culinary heritage that dates back to Vedas and Ayurveda in particular which had first documented Indian food in 15th Century BC. This would then make for an interesting thought as to why Chenna (sweet cheese used to make rasgulla) took so long to be invented when panner (cottage cheese) was known in India since 3000 BC?
Pandit Acharya, in his book, ‘Indian Food – A Historical Companion’ says that India has always been the land of milk, curd and butter but it has always shied away from cheese, unlike most counties of the world. The reason according to him is that Ayurveda does not encourage Hindus to partake any food item that has been spoilt. This included milk, which needed to become rancid for cheese production. Chenna and rasgulla making may have been possible only after the Dutch settlers came to Kolkata in the 19th century. The Dutch were expert cheese makers and hence helped in development of rasgulla.
But all the proud Bengalis, do not lose heart, even if we lost our rosogolla to Orissa and Holland, we still have the ‘Sandesh’, or do we?