The feral turf war over the Geographical Identification (GI) tag of one of India’s signature sweets, rasogolla, between the states of West Bengal and Odisha that started in 2015, has finally been tamed with the former emerging victorious. The GI authorities in Chennai have pronounced the state of West Bengal as the sweet’s place of origin.
The soft cheese dumplings saturated with sugar syrup have, undoubtedly, held an esteemed position in the Bengali spread, arguably second only to sandesh, but their origin remains shrouded by conjecture — much of which led to the tussle between the two states. In her book, Eating India (Bloomsbury USA), Chitrita Banerji writes, “Like most Bengalis, I had always assumed that these and other channa-based sweets had evolved out of the regional imagination, until I came across the theory that the Bengalis have learned to make them from the Portuguese who settled around the Bay of Bengal in the 17th century.”
Cottage cheese, popular among the Portuguese, was made by adding citric acid to boiled milk and as they established themselves, they introduced India to the practice. “The use of fermented milk was not accepted in kitchens traditionally and was considered taboo. Hence, nothing that was made with curdled milk could be offered to the gods,” says author and food blogger, Kalyan Karmakar, “Though, its origin can be contested, what cannot be denied is that West Bengal popularised the sweet.” Much of the credit goes to KC Das, who alleges that his ancestor, Nobin Chandra Das invented the sweet, and to other confectioners such as KC Gope, Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy and Balaram Mullick in Kolkata.
Sabyasachi Gorai of the Armenian restaurant, Lavaash by Saby, Delhi, recalls the many rasogolla-eating competitions that he has participated in. It is the “ultimate proof of your love for the sweet”, he says, adding, “There is, of course, great joy in consuming it but watching it form as it rolls around in boiling water is a sight.”
But for Gorai, laying claims over the invention or ownership of rasogolla is a peurile gesture. “It can be traced back to the time when we started splitting milk. Who is to say where it originated? Food should be excused from these man-made boundaries and politics,” says Gorai.