We are just 2 days into the Bengali New Year and what better excuse can there be than this to share a bit of Bangaliana (everything Bengali) with everyone – the ones who are already familiar with Bengali culture and tradition and also those who are absolutely uninitiated to it. But where to start and how to start? When you grow up amidst a certain culture it becomes so much a part of you that it is not very easy to dissect oneself from it and write about it, specially if the intention is to introduce that culture to the world. But nothing is impossible. One just has to make a decent start. Should I write about a traditional Bengali recipe? That might be a first in my blog as I have been writing a lot on Bengali Fusion Food that doles out from our kitchen. Or should it be a nostalgia from childhood? Or perhaps it could be some sweet talk about a Bengali Sweet since Bengalis are synonymous with Sweets.
I decided to settle on the latter but on a more controversial note. Rasgulla or Rôshogolla (as is pronounced in Bengali) is perhaps the most famous of Bengali Sweets but would Bengal fall apart if I were to say that the Rôshogolla doesn’t even belong to Bengalis and has been imported? So is Chhana or the Indian cottage cheese with which these quintessential Bengali Rôshogollas are so proudly made up of! It definitely would but that should not take away the entire ‘sweet’ glory away from Bengal.
Behind the story
Mishti or Sweets are officially designated to ‘belong’ to Bengalis. Bengali Sweets are synonymous to having ISO Certicficates in Indian Sweets! Hence, you will find many famous Indian sweet shops outside Bengal with a ‘Bengali Sweet’ Counter or a banner outside the Sweet-shop claiming that ‘BENGALI SWEETS AVAILABLE HERE!’
Sweets are a necessary sign-off for a traditional Bengali meal. You end your meal with Chutney (Chutney is a sweet, tangy paste and can be made with every conceivable fruit and even vegetables! For example – Aam/mangoes, Jalpai/Olives, tomatoes, Anarosh/pineapple, Tetul/tamarind, Pépé/papaya and various other type of fruits. Dry fruits like Khejur/dates, Kishmish/raisins may also be added to it. While cooking Chutneys are splashed with Phoron/Mustard seeds cooked slightly in oil or Paanch-Phoron/5 seeds cooked in oil. Papad/Big chips like flakes made up of Potatos or Dried Daal usually accompanies the Chutney). After the Chutney comes the formal dessert tasting! The choice in Mishti/Sweets is absolutely endless. This is a category that has catapulted Bengal into a different quotient of sweetness. Mishti Doi/ Sweet yoghurt, Bhapa Doi/Steamed Yoghurt, Payesh/ Sweet dessert made with rice, milk and sugar, Rasamalai, Pantua, Lyangcha, Chamcham, Chanar Jilipi, Rajbhog, Rasakadambo…
And then there is THE Rôshogolla!
Rôshogolla defines a Bengali character as well as Bengali talent. Bengalis are supposed to possess sweet voices and they sing well – yes, you guessed it right – probably because of Rôshogolla! Evidence indeed suggests that most of the greatest singers and composers in the Indian music industry specially the Hindi film industry are all Bengalis starting from the legendary Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Manna De to today’s singers like Kumar Shaanu, Abhijit, Shaan, Shreya Ghoshal, Monali Thakur and many others. The Bengali language is very soft and flexible, again you guessed it right – because of Rôshogolla! Half a million Bengali girls have nicknames like Mishti, Mithi, Mithu etc and all these are Bengali terms meaning Sweets or Sweetness. In-fact Bengalis are supposed to possess round faces, that too because of our association with Rôshogolla and not the Mongoloid connection!
The history of Rôshogolla:
Rôshogolla is a Bengali’s most famous culinary weapon. Unfortunately this famous sweet didn’t even originate in Bengal. Rôshogolla originated in the Indian state of Orissa, a neighboring state of Bengal where it is pronounced as Rasagola. They are made from balls of Chhana (an Indian cottage cheese) and semolina dough, cooked in a sugar syrup. And the variations of Rôshogolla is also unique and popular. Now, Rôshogollas have become popular throughout India and other parts of South Asia.
In Orissa, Rôshogollas, also known by its original name, Khira mōhana has been a traditional Oriya dish for centuries. The inventors of Rôshogollas are thought to be the Kar brothers, the descendants of a local confectioner, Bikalananda Kar, in the town of Salepur, near Cuttack. Even today these Rasgullas famously named as Bikali Kar Rasgulla, are sold all over Orissa. Many variants of these Rasgulla are available and are popular in many parts of Orissa.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Bengali cuisine borrowed heavily from Oriya culinary traditions and the popularity of Rasgulla spread to the neighboring state of Bengal. A sweet seller named Haradhan Moira may have introduced the dish to Bengal. In the year 1868, Nobin Chandra Das, a local confectioner of Kolkata, simplified the recipe to make sponge Rasgullas. His son, K.C. Das started canning the product and made the Rôshogolla the biggest Bengali export to the world. Today, several other Indian sweet makers from places such as Bikaner and Delhi as well as manufacturers such as Haldiram’s have started manufacturing canned Rôshogollas. More recently, it has been marketed by the Kar brothers as well. In Nepal too the Rasgulla is popular under the name Rasbari. (The History of Rôshogolla – Source Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Though canned Rôshogollas are probably the only choice for many Rôshogolla-desirers outside Bengal or India, traditionally they are sold in clay pots called handis. The above photograph of mine is from a very famous sweet shop in Kolkata where how the handis are stacked is equally important as the making of the Rôshogollas!
There are lots of famous sweet shops in Kolkata and each Sweet Shop is famous for it’s own signature sweet. But sometimes our emotions are stuck with one little sweet-shop in the neighborhood. My emotions are similarly stuck with a small sweet shop called ‘Maity Sweets’ tucked in a corner around the market area – Ghugudanga Bazaar by the Repose Clinic off the ubér-posh Ballygunge locality and Ironside Road. Here the Rôshogollas are mini-sized and super-soft, priced at INR 1/piece and the rates haven’t changed since the last 15 years! Every guest at our home has fond memories of Maity-r ek-takar Rôshogolla (meaning Maity’s Rôshogollas that are priced at INR 1!)
My very good friend, Srikanth is a connoisseur in Bengali Sweets and everything that goes into Bengali cooking. Though he’s born a Tamilian, he has probably more knowledge on Bengalis and Bengal than any of us Bengalis. Currently he’s on his way to open his third store in Bangalore which sells traditional Bengali Sweets. And Bangalore is not even next door to Kolkata. Tucked away in the South-Indian state of Karnataka, it is approximately 1920 kms away from Kolkata! I have had to revise my original post after receiving a ‘sweet’ email containing various minute details about Rôshogolla. So here’s the revised post as an ode to my Tamil friend who’s now turned completely Bong (the ubér-cool term for a Bengali)!
Variations of Rôshogolla
Rôshogolla variants come under the Genre ‘Rokom‘ which is made from Cow’s Milk and is made of pure Chhanna:
- Notun Gurer Rôshogolla are the seasonal variations of Rôshogolla with addition of Notun Gur or Season Fresh Jaggery during the winter season thereby producing beige-coloured Rôshogollas. This is a gastronomical experience that probably cannot be translated into words.
Types of Rôshogolla
– Khasta ie crunchy
– Odisha type Khasta ie crunchy like in Orissa where they also add Suji/Semolina
– Half Sponge
Derivatives of Rôshogolla
These may consist of ‘Bhaja Misthi’ or Sweets that have been fried and are made up of Channa, Kheer/khowa and Maida/White Flour.
- Pantua consists of chhana balls deep fried in oil before being soaked in syrup – this is a Bengali version of the well known Gulabjamun
- Lyangcha is also similar to Pantua but has an elongated shape (the Z-SISTERS call these sweet sausages!)
- Malai chop, consists of prepared chhana that is sandwiched between a layer of sweetened clotted cream
– Rasmalai consists of Rôshogollas where the sugar syrup is replaced with sweetened milk.
– Kamalabhog mixes orange extract with chhana and produces big orange-coloured Rôshogollas smelling of fresh oranges.
Importance of Chhana
Chhana is fresh, unripened curd cheese widely used in India and Bangladesh and is a crumbly and moist form of Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese or farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids). This Cutting of the Milk to make Chhanna ie Acidification is the most important factor affecting the quality of Rôshogolla. Chhana is created in a similar process to Paneer except that it is not pressed for as long. Though the Paneer can be traced back to the Vedas dating back to 3000 BC and has an Indian origin, Chhana that is the base for most of the Bengali Sweets has been imported from Portugal and can be traced back to the Portugese settlements in Bengal during the 16th Century AD.
Important Factors Affecting the Quality of Rôshogolla
– The Cutting of the Milk to make Chhanna ie Acidification is the most important factor affecting the quality of Rôshogolla
– Rosh or Chasni ie the thickness or BRIX of Sugar Syrup
– The temperature and the way the medium ie the previous day’s whey water, vinegar, lime is introduced to cut the milk (the best results are produced when you slowly introduce the acid medium into the milk)
There is a superb conversation going on here regarding the making of Rôshogollas. It is a definite read for those who are attempting to make Rôshogolla at home.
A Nostalgic association
My maternal grandmother comes from Bhatpara, which is a suburban town and a municipality under North 24 Parganas, a district in the state of Bengal, India. It is situated on the bank of Ganges or the Hooghly river. Bhatpara is known for its rich traditions and renowned for its Sanskrit cultural heritage and learning. There are a number of sweet shops in Bhatpara and the residents and the descendents with any association with this place is famous for their sweet tooth. Rôshogollas here are coated with actual sugar particles – taking the intensity of the Bengali sweetness to a different category!
It is not unusual that my beloved Dida or my maternal grandmother was an expert in making sweets – and sweet pickles. She made elaborate and artistic Bengali Sweets which looked and tasted equally awesome. The laborious process in making these took most of her days and probably night too. We would wait to see what sweets she had specially prepared for us. To make a serious issue lighter, it is also not unusual that she took Insulin injections till her very last day along with one Rôshogolla that followed her meals!
The traditional importance of Rôshogolla
In the coastal city of Puri in Orissa, the Rasgulla has been the traditional offering to the Hindu goddess, Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of Wealth), the consort to the Puri temple’s main deity, Jagannath. In fact, it is an age-old custom inside the temple to offer Rasgullas to Lakshmi in order to appease her wrath for being ignored, on the last day of the eleven day long famous Rath Yatra (chariot festival). Only after the goddess has savored Rasgullas, do the trinity of deities re-enter the temple precincts after their sojourn. Rasgullas are distributed to the numerous devotees who throng to witness the event. This intricate ritual, called Niladri Vijay, has traditionally marked the commencement of the festival every year.Scholars believe that the sweet may in fact owe its origin to the very temple itself claiming that the Rasgulla might be more than 600 years old and is as old as the Rath Yatra in Puri! The Rath Yatra, which started more than six centuries ago, has not changed with times. And until today, Rasgulla is the only sweet offered to Mahalaxmi, Jagannath’s consort, to appease her when the deities return home. Traditional Oriya folklore likens even Lord Jagannath’s round eyes to Rasgullas. It has been suggested that Bengali visitors to Puri might have carried the recipe for Rasgulla back to Bengal in the nineteenth century. (The traditional importance of Rôshogolla - Source Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Serving of Rôshogolla
Though Rôshogollas are usually served at room temperature, nowadays various experiments have led them to be served chilled. Or sizzling hot when they have just been freshly prepared. Or even frozen to make Icecreams Rasgullas – notable among them are Notun Gurer Rôshogolla Icecream from the popular Bengali restaurant 6 Ballygunge Place (in Kolkata as well as in Bangalore). You could also enjoy a very easy preparation, an experiment from our very own kitchen - Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce!
Even though the knowledge that both Rôshogolla and the Chhana does not solely belong to the Bengalis and have been imported, can be really heart-wrenching, it can’t take away the entire legacy of Bengal in sweet-making. Rôshogollas will eternally belong to the Bengalis. And with that sweet note, here’s wishing everyone happiness, health, wealth & prosperity on the occasion of the Bengali New Year.
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Following articles will introduce you to Bengali Food or Kolkata (the way I see it and feel it!):
Traditional Bengali Cuisine – An etymological explanation of our food-fetish
Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel! – Gujia, Jibe Goja, Abaar Khabo & Jolbhora
Easter Egg Curry – Recipe; Bengali Fusion, Traditional Bengali plus Continental
Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté – Recipe; Bengali Fusion
Yoghurt Aubergine with Pomegranate – Recipe; Bengali Fusion
Purple Haze Yoghurt with Purple M&Ms – Recipe; Bengali Fusion
Icecream Rasgulla with Blueberry Sauce – Recipe; Bengali Fusion
Terraces and Beyond
Living by the water with sunset as prop – Kolkata & the Ganges
Magistrate’s House, No 1 Thackeray Road, Alipore
Auto, my ultmate road crush – Kolkata
The unlikely twins – Oberammergau & Kolkata