History of rossogolla now just a click away
If you're crazy about rossogolla, it's time you should thank the Portugese. If they had not come to Serampore, what the British called snowball and you know as rossogolla may not have come into existence.
Many such interesting historical facts and socio-cultural details of Bengali sweets came up for discussion at a special meet, organized by sweetmaker Chittaranjan, at the Bengal Club on Thursday. A website dedicated to the quintessential rossogolla, where one can log in to find interesting history and anecdotes, was also launched (www.rasogolla.com).
Those attended the meet were surprised to know that till the Portugese came to the state, Bengal - the sweet capital of India - remained contented with sweets made out of thickened milk, sandesh for example. This is because the art of making cottage cheese (chhana), the main ingredient in rossogolla, was not found then. After the arrival of the Portugese, Bengal got to know that milk could be curdled to make cottage cheese, which was commonly known as Bandel Cheese. Though chhana and Bandel cheese were quite distinct in taste, but the method of making them was essentially the same.
On Thursday, writer Shankar traced back the history of some Bengali sweets like the motichur, jalebi, gaja and bonde to their Sanskrit roots. "Writer Syed Mujtaba Ali would often tell me that we should have a national sweet and when that happens, there would be a fight between the rossogolla, sandesh and mishti doi," Shankar said. Former Parliamentarian Krishna Bose and historian Gautam Bhadra were the other two speakers.
"Take the chandrapuli for example. Netaji's mother used to make them so well that he could never appreciate those made by others. In the Bose household, traditional Bengali sweets made at home would be part of lunch and tea-time snacking. In my maternal home, I saw some of the best kheer er chhap and coconut sweets being made at home," Bose, who is also wife of Netaji's nephew Sisir Bose, said.
Historian Bhadra traced early Bengal sweets to the Vaishnav Charitamrita that apparently mentions 64 different kinds of sweets. "Perhaps the malpoa is the oldest Bengali sweet, as least historical accounts seem to say so," Bhadra said. Experimentation with sweets in Bengal reached its peak during the British times "and so you have Nehru sandesh and the Empress gaja, not to speak of the very popular Lady Canny (from Lady Canning)," Bhadra said.
The debate over whether rossogolla is the favourite Bengali sweet would see Kolkata divided since even the sandesh has a large fan following.
As history has it, the rossogolla was discovered in 1868 and in five years, the city would be celebrating 150 years of the sweet. It is traditionally believed that Nabin Chandra Das invented the rossogolla. "The cottage cheese balls have to be boiled in a certain consistency of sugar syrup, that is where the magic lies," said Dhiman Das of KC Das.
Now, a website on Bengal's sweet delicacies
Tempting fans of Bengali sweets, the website rasogolla.com, conceptualised by Kolkata's century-old Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar Private Ltd, has elaborate sections on rasogolla and traditional sweets, and caters to the queries of the curious fans. "Sweet lovers at our shop used to frequently inquire about the origin of the sweets. They included regulars as well as foreigners. We thought why not compile the information into a website," Nitai Ghosh of Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar Private Ltd, said.
Rasogolla.com tickles the taste buds through its enticing pages, replete with anecdotes and panoramic shots of delights like sandesh and spongy rasogolla among others. "We have included detailed information right from scratch like how the milk is sourced for the rasogolla. We have introduced only a few sweets so far but gradually we will add more," said Ghosh about the website, which also reaches out to a wider audience through social networking.
The website contains pages on sweets that are associated with Bengali customs like Jamai Sashthi (the son-in-law's day) and Annaprasan (first time a baby tastes food other than milk). "It will also serve as a platform for discussion and sharing information on mishti (sweets)," said Ghosh. Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar Private Ltd was started in 1907 by Ghosh's grandfather Hiralal Ghosh.