BHUBANESWAR: The long drawn catfight over ownership of Rasagola/Rasogolla between Odisha and Bengal has hopefully found its closure following grant of GI tag to ‘Odisha Rasagola’.
The ‘Banglar Rasogolla’ had obtained it two years back. The wild celebrations of perceived victory that swamped the social media immediately after the GI Registry, Chennai, announced the grant of GI tag to the Odisha version of the universally savoured sweet has cooled down. Now what?
While some may feel, Odisha truly deserves to commemorate the moment – after all, it has been an appropriate end to the bitter tussle and accords long-due recognition to the land’s very own gift to the culinary world – it is also a time to sit up and reflect, why it has come to this point. And, therein lies the answer- that we have not done even a wee bit to promote our own treasurehouse of culinary heritage and create an identity for Odisha cuisine, the way that other regions and cultures in the country have.
People outside the State do not have an inkling of what Odia food is even as they rave about delectables drawn from other regional cuisine, be it the omni-present idli-dosa, the butter chicken, the biryanis, doi machh or the matar paneer. To think of it, there is not one dish that the present-day food-lovers outside the State can associate with the land.
Yet, Odisha has had occupied a central position in the culinary scene of the country since ancient times. Odia cuisine dates back to the Vedic Ages and is stated by food researchers to have laid foundation for many food cultures extending abroad to Bali. Odisha, Odra Desha and Kalinga in the ancient ages, has been established to have supplied spices to the Romans through its ports and shaped multi-religious culinary cultures from Buddhism to Jainism. Closer home and in more recent times, it is stated to have influenced the cuisine of its arch food rival Bengal.
It is said that the chefs taken from Odisha to work with the Bengali zamindars shaped the cuisine of the land. Acclaimed food historian Chermaine O’Brien in her book, the ‘Penguin Food Guide to India’ also notes the similarities in Bengali and Odia cooking. She goes on to write, “Odisha is a place where a culinary transition from north to south takes place as it shares a part of its border with South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh”.
What makes Odia food unique and lends supremacy among other traditions is its amalgamation of spirituality and sensual gratification that oscillates from the extreme austere and the frugal to the robust and sweet savouriness. The elevated temple cuisine exemplified by the divine Mahaparasad of Jagannath temple, the utterly simplistic Dalma and Pakhala, the robust Mangsha jhola and Machha besara, the ethereal Rasagola, Chhenapoda are all emblems of the tradition. Yet, the land remains obscure in the Indian culinary map. Let’s take a headcount of what getting the GI tag means to the real world. Does it acknowledge rasagola originated in Odisha?
It does recognize the Odisha version. Does it give us the exclusivity that only rasagola produced in Odisha will have the liberty to use the term? Nope, it doesn’t. The Bengali version has already been bestowed with that luxury a few years ago. The add salt to the cut, the GI tag does little to change the popular belief, according to which any kind of oblong chenna sweet dipped in sugary syrup originates from Bengal – and not Odisha. The concession, perhaps, will be the counted few who may try to use the connect, and possibly mention it once a while, most likely as an academic information, nothing more.
A non-resident non-Odia on a restaurant seat anywhere in the country, even in Odisha, will relish the rasagola and link it to Bengal without batting an eyelid. The reason- Bengal has been able to market its cuisine including the sweets so well that they have become ingrained in the psyche of the people. And, Odias have utterly failed, thanks to an inherent lack of ingenuity, enterprise and, more importantly, a deep-rooted inferiority complex.
Even in the State, if one asks for an authentic Odia food destination, people will be grappling for a definitive answer. Again, ask for the best food destination in the pilgrim city of Puri, the abode of the most revered deity of the Odias, almost the complete set of fingers raised will point towards Bhojohari Manna, a Bengali speciality restaurant chain. The semblance of efforts that have gone to popularize Odia food have been sporadic and recent exercises like the ‘Pakhala Dibasa’ or ‘Rasagola Dibasa’ on twitter, facebook and instagram.
The GI tag provides an opportunity to chart the course of taking Odisha cuisine to the world. The Government and the people should make the most of it, and ensure the food of the land is given its place of pride in the culinary map of the country.