India is known for the variety of desserts available all over the country. Indeed no occasion is adequately celebrated without a hearty filling of sweets; and different regions of the country have their own signature dishes. Bengal for example has always been known for its sandesh and rosogolla (literally meaning ‘dumpling of sweet syrup’ ). A rosogolla is a sweet popular in the states of West Bengal and Orissa and is basically made of soft spongy balls of cottage cheese (chana) dipped in thick viscous sugar syrup. Over the years, the sweet has undergone its fair share of transformation and is now popular throughout the country for its mouthwatering deliciousness. The rosogolla has its share of variants. While the normal and most popular version is white in color, you also have the nolen gurer rosogolla (made from special seasonal date jaggery ‘nolen gur’ available in the winter), the Kamalabhog (orange flavored) and Rajbhog (Royal meal).
The Origin: Bikalananda Kar and Khir mohana
The exact age of the sweet is debated upon. The original recipe is at least three to six centuries old as opined by historians. Rosogollas are used as the only sweet offered to Goddess Mahalakshmi (consort to Lord Jagannath of the Puri temple) durig the annual festival of Rathayatra. The festival is six centuries old and the rituals have hardly changed with time. This implies that the sweet must be as old as the festival itself. Moreover in old scriptures the roundness of Lord Jagannath’s eyes has also been likened to the shape of rosogollas.
The Rosogolla took its birth in present day Odisha and was originally known as Khira mohana. It has been a traditional Oriya sweet dish for a long time and was invented by the celebrated confectioner of the yesteryear- Bikalananda Kar. The Kar brothers popularised the sweet and their descendants still operate the confectionery from Salepur, a town near Cuttack, the capital of Odisha. The present day Rosogolla differs from the erstwhile khira mohana quite a lot. The traditional recipe found its way into the Bengali kitchen at the time of the Bengal Social Renaissance when the Upper Class Bengalis in Kolkata started employing Oriya cooks in their kitchen.
The legendary confectioner (moira, as called in the local language) Nobin Chandra Das of Kolkata is accredited to be the father of Rosogollas as we know them today.
Nobin Chandra Das and how he invented the ‘Kolkatar Rosogolla’
The Oriya Khira mohana was not as spongy or soft as the rosogolla. Moreover it was perishable, making storage an issue. Nobin Chandra Das took upon himself the task of revolutionizing the sweet to suit Bengali tongues. His forefathers had been sugar merchants in Kolkata for a long time and had a well established business in sweets. Nobin Chandra Das came up with the perfect recipe to soften the dessert and make it last longer. What he had now was delicious dumplings that melted in your mouth leaving you wanting for more. What was left was marketing the product, and luck lent him a helping hand.
The legend goes that one day a travel weary man asked for water from Nobin Chandra Das, and Das being his hospitable self offered him a rosogolla along with a glass of water. The man turned out to be famous Kolkata businessman Raibahadur Bhagwandas Bagla. He was so impressed by the humble looking sweet that he used his influence to popularise Das’ creation. Soon enough Bengal started to swear by the rosogolla. They say that Das refused to file for a patent for the recipe of the sweet as he believed that his creation would be popularised only when it would be sold in sweet shops across Bengal. He taught many confectioners the intricacies of his winning recipe; and today the fame of rosogolla has traveled across the length and breadth of the country.
It was with the marketing genius and ingenuity of Das’s son that the rosogolla garnered more fame. K. C. Das, as he is popularly known today, invented the canned version of the sweet and it was now possible to ship the product over long distance. Needless to say, the rosogolla found its adequate share of takers.
Traditionally rosogollas are sold in clay pots called ‘handis’. In Nepal the sweet is popular under the alias ‘rasbari’. An interesting piece of trivia: The Indian space agency, ISRO is developing dehydrated rasgullas for Indian astronauts in its planned manned mission in 2016.
The Rosogolla is unparalleled in popularity in Kolkata when it comes to pulling crowds. It has been suitably reinvented from time to time. Western flavors have been incorporated into the traditional recipe to come up with innovations ranging from the chocolate rosogolla, the strawberry rosogolla and vanilla flavored ones to a few bizarre combinations as well. However the simplicity of the humble traditional recipe maintains its hold over the taste buds of Bengalis. Bengali taste has become synonymous with the ubiquitous sweet and everything ranging from a hot Bengali to anything remotely desirable is often lovingly referred to as ‘rosogolla’. Needless to say, if you happen to visit the City of Joy anytime, you will be a fool to give the Rosogolla a miss.