West Bengal vs. Odisha: Whose Rosogolla Is It Anyway?


West Bengal vs. Odisha: Whose Rosogolla Is It Anyway?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arre

Yesterday, West Bengal won a bloody, hard-fought war against its closest neighbour. And the lingering aftertaste of victory is sweet. The land of Baul music, football riots, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, had been locked in battle with Odisha, a state with no such epithets to stake a claim to, over the origins of the rosogolla. You know, that spongy-soft mithai submerged in murky sugar syrup that sometimes makes squeaking noises when you bite into it. Well, the century-old debate was settled when West Bengal was awarded a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the rosogolla, which Odisha also claims as its own.

According to the WTO, a GI tag means, that “none other than those registered as authorised users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name.” Which sucks, because Odisha had like one shot at achieving popularity for its food.

This was an ego tussle for you, wasn’t it Bengal? Surely you could have left this one dish, served as prasad at the holiest of Odisha’s religious sites, the Jagannath temple, for your poorer neighbour?

The food of West Bengal is like Steve Harrington from Stranger Things: good-looking, popular, and wholesome from the get-go. The food of Odisha on the other hand is like Jonathan Byers; average-looking and creepy, until you get to know him better. Where West Bengal has dishes like kosha mangsho, dimmer devil, khichuri, labda, and phenomenal Chinese food, made by real Chinese people, Odisha has pokhalo, which is rice and its slightly fermented cooking liquid, eaten with various chutneys. Appetising, but only in a prison-camp sort of way. I mean ok, there’s the chhena poda, a dessert best described as baked rosogolla without the syrup, but that’s about it.

I feel for Odisha, because the state has always been viewed as West Bengal’s poorer cousin. Where West Bengal has a plethora of party tricks, chief among them Kolkata — that melting pot of culture and philosophy and high art — Odisha simply has pot. And that dude who makes intricate sand sculptures on Puri beach. Where Bengal has Rabindranath Tagore, Odisha has Biswa Kalyan Rath. Even high-school geography has fucked with Odisha. I remember sixth grade and being taught about West Bengal’s fertile deltas packed with alluvial soil, sounding like some sort of Edenic idyll. Odisha, on the other hand, seemed to be caught up between cyclones and a hard place.

So of course Odisha is pissed off about losing one of its most cherished creations. Shame on you Bengal, you should’ve been the bigger state (which you actually are) and let Odisha have its rosogolla. You wouldn’t have been poorer for it.
I’m going to drown my sorrows in sugar syrup, with this rosogolla recipe.

Here’s What You Need:
A litre of whole milk (not skimmed or low fat)
2 tablespoons of lime juice or vinegar
2 tablespoons of corn flour
A cup of sugar
2 cups of water
5-6 pods of cardamom
A few strands of saffron
Chopped pistachios, to garnish

What To Do With It:
Bring the milk to a boil. Now simmer it and add the lemon juice or vinegar. Give it a stir and take it off the heat.
Now let the milk sit for three minutes and then pour it through a muslin cloth or clean kitchen towel to catch the curd. Let this hang over a sink for about 45 minutes.
Now knead these curds with the cornflour until a smooth dough forms. Your palms should feel oily at the end of it.
Form the dough into lime-sized balls because they will swell to twice their size as they cook.
Bring the water, sugar, and cardamom to a boil and let the sugar dissolve completely.
Now add in the balls, a few at a time and cover and cook for 10 minutes in the sugar syrup. Then add the saffron.
They should be twice as large when cooked, and sink to the bottom. A good, fresh rosogolla never floats. Serve chilled.