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Durable Link to this BlogTuesday, May 24, 2005

Rasgulla: Royal Dessert

"What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow!" was a popular saying in the early years of last century. It implied that (undivided) Bengal and Bengalis were ahead of Indians from other states, in many fields. Availability of English education early was perhaps one of the causes for this advancement. Most of the distinguished thinkers, reformers, revolutionaries, poets, scientists and artists hailed form Bengal. Naturally they provided food for thought to the country for more than a century.

But they provided the choicest food the palate as well!

I am referring to Rasgulla (a.k.a. rasagolla), Bengal's supreme gift for gourmets. History tells that the first ever preparation of Rasgulla was by Nabin Chandra Das in Calcutta in 1868. (He is the ancestor of the internationally known K.C. Das family who are expertise in this savory). It became an instant hit, even with the British, due to its cheesy, pleasantly sweet taste and texture. Unlike most of the North Indian milk and ghee based sweets like Barfi, Peda and Laddu, Rasgullas were fluffy, light and easy to digest. It seems, Lady Canning, wife of the popular Viceroy Lord Canning was particularly fond of one of this sophisticated variety stuffed with saffron and elachi (cardamom). It is said that the dish is named after her. There are other varieties like Rajbhog with different stuffing.

Cow's milk is most essential ingrediant in the preparation of Rasgulla; bufallo milk must be used! During my Calcutta stay (1977-1980) I used to wonder at gallons and gallons of milk being turned into Rasgullas, depriving the kids of their daily dose of milk. Later I realized that Bengali kids prefer a small Rasgulla to a big glass of milk! It is their normal food - when available. It is a way of life!

These days, preparation of Rasgullas is standardized and made easier. Any condensed milk is turned into cheese (Chhanna) by adding citric acid or lemon juice and then simmered into light sugar syrup. But a trained tongue can at once make out the difference between fresh cow-milk savory and a machine-made product.

Nowadays Rasgulla has acquired international fame. It appears in state and international banquets. It is supposed to be a favorite dessert of Cuban President and an ex-American President.

See Also:
• Topics on Indian Food
• Banga-Darshana -- Encounters in West Bengal

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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