Rasgulla, Rasogulla or the Rôshogolla. You might call it anyway you like, but the unofficial national sweet of India has been in a center of fight between the Bengalis and Odias. I’m not going to get into the history as written already on Wikipedia. It’s recounted to have originated from the temples of Lord Jaganath in Puri. Every time someone posts about rasgulla on a public forum, the Bengalis and Odias have been ready to get on with the tussle, to claim it as theirs.
Being from Cuttack, I have been bordered by the two phenomenal cities on either sides, from where rasgullas are said to be the best. Pahala on one and Salepur on the other. Everytime I drove down to Bhubaneswar, along the NH-5 a stop at Pahala was guaranteed, for having some of the piping hot rasgullas. Unlike the ones from Bengal, these aren’t spongy, but more melt in the mouth. They are mostly preferred had piping hot.
The modern version of the Rasgullas, considering it’s been around for more than thousands of years is a very recent phenomenon. Having added, semolina to it and making the syrup thicker, Nobin Chandra Das went on to give this delicious sweet a better shelf life. And his son went a step further on canning them, so that people all over could relish it without having to think much of having to gobble down as soon as cooked.
This time wanting to get into the history with the locals on a visit to Odisha, I drove down to Pahala again for primarily two reasons. One to have a plate of the piping hot rasgullas and two to actually hear out their version of the story. Some say that Pahala has been a recent phenomenon. But the shops say otherwise. Some of the shops making the rasgullas, have been doing it for more than a 100 years.
You’ll find the shops at Pahala named quite funnily after relatives. While one simply translating will be “Aunt’s Son” while the other will be “Grandma’s Grandson’s shop”. All of them though have been very consistent with their sweet-making.
The use of chenna (a form of cottage cheese) is abundant in most of Odisha’s sweets and is used quite extensively in the Rasgulla too. Ranging from really small to much larger, they come in different price ranges. The bigger ones have a hidden cashew, elaichi or raisin fitted in them. The Rasagullas made at Pahala have a thinner syrup to it. They are best had hot once out and tend to spoil in a good 10-12 hours. Once refrigerated, their taste decreases over time and subsequently spoilt. They are mostly off-white to cream color and very different from the ones made at Salepur.
Salepur can literally be called the place where you get the most delicious of sweets ever. Period. Like almost the best in all of India. A few 10-15 kms from Cuttack, Salepur was made famous and put on the sweet map of India by the Kar Brothers. As I rode over to Salepur one fine day, I couldn’t help but notice that rasgullas were part of almost every meal of theirs. They love having it with rotis, puris and just like that too. The Rasgullas at Salepur are thick, with a denser syrup and completely brown-ish. They are a bit sweeter than their Pahala counterparts.
If not for Bikalnanda Kar, the rasgullas would have remained restricted to the temples of Puri. He is said to have been the one who perfected the art outside of temple premises in the town of Salepur. This is one reason why the Salepur version of the rasgullas have a longer shelf life than their other counterparts found in Orissa. The Bikalnanda shops have now expanded out of Salepur and have opened up many outlets in the capital city of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
Rasgullas have always been a part of the Odia meal from ages ago. From marriage parties, to birth ceremonies, to just plain binging on them, Rasgullas hold a special place. Everyone has their own version of the rasgullas that they are attached to. The Bengalis love theirs, while the Odias love their version. But for India, this is one of the best sweets that a person can’t get enough of having only one.
Below is a video of Rasgulla being prepared in Pahala.