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|Volume 11 |Issue 21| May 25, 2012 ||
Sandwich, Rasgulla and Fazli
Shah Husain Imam
Popular food items have interesting origins. Taste is all that matters about what we eat, and not its history. But if you relish what you eat, you ought to be morally curious to know how it came into the food culture. If you are not, then you are selfish, measly-minded obsessed with your taste buds alone or getting a fill of the stomach. Hardly keen on bowing your hat to the inventor, discoverer, and more important, the researcher who forked out the myths from the depths of time.
Some of the foods tell of the times they were put on the platter for the first time; and others are named after places or individuals, important -- but notorious, or maybe just ordinary folks suddenly placed under limelight by a twist of luck. Some arrived by accident, others through tradition and legend.
Sandwich celebrated its 250th year recently. The BBC is credited for highlighting it to the world. Exactly in 1762 during late hours one night an Englishman John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) struck up an eating idea. A compulsive gambler that he was, he ordered for a snack made of roast-beef between two slices of bread. So he would have one set of fingers free from grease to play with his cards.
Thus it was the first-born in the fast food chain, its name being associated with both a place as well as an individual.
Gambling was one of John Montagu's lesser vices; for, he is said to have been immoral both in private and public life. That such an innocuous diet having worldwide eaters should be the brain child of a tainted person is ironic.
Nearer home, celebration of rasgulla, an ubiquitous sweetmeat in much of South Asia coincided with the 300th year of Kolkata in 1990. The Statesman's special supplement on the occasion carried a legend on rasgulla. One zamindar, tired from a long journey on his way to Sutanuti and Gobindapur, the place-names associated with Job Charnak's Calcutta, was resting with his retinue of personal staff at a wooded corner. A sweetmeat maker (moira) by then had been treating passing caravans to a sweet dish he didn't have a name for. He served the same delicacy to the zamindar and his companions with cool water from traditional decanter which together gave his guests a delight they would carry home. Then on, the zamindar would be ordering maunds after maunds of that sweetmeat popularising it among the Calcutta elite. The name rasgulla is literally a picture-word for the food item made up of chhena and small amount of semolina rolled into small balls boiled in light caramel.
Orissa, however, claims to be the originator of rasgulla, but Nobin Das of West Bengal, is considered to have fathered it. It is to him that the credit goes for lending a strong texture to rasgulla from its previous perishable characteristic.
About mango, the king of fruits, is a story as juicy as the fruit itself. A British district magistrate posted in Rajshahi had strayed on his horseback into a forested area. He was thirsty and tired. A village woman came out of her hut with a big luscious mango and offered it to the shaheb reclining inside a tent he had pitched. The DM ate it with pleasure and relish. Bowing to the lady for her hospitality he asked her name. She said Fazli was her name and that's how the mango got named after her and would be shipped to Queen Victoria for her palate.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
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