There is nothing in the world that brings out the fighting spirit like food. Food matters. It sustains us, gives us a warm glow in our hearts, fire in our bellies (literally, if the cook had a free hand with the chillies) and nourishment for our cells. Food is what families and friends bond over and gossip over. It is a religion, with billions of faithful followers bowing before the plate. But like all religions there are schisms and everyone claims that their food is better, be it the taste, texture or aroma. But interestingly enough, no one seems to be bothered to make claims about their food being healthier or more nutritious.
People, being possessive are willing to fight for the food that belongs to them and feel a proprietorial right to food originating from their country, region, perhaps even village. The same dish being produced in another place is not considered to be the real thing. The water, soil, air and hands of the local cooks are supposed to add to the flavour of authenticity. Hence the Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which tells the consumer that the product possesses the qualities and characteristics for which it is reputed, coming from its original place of production. Champagne after all comes from Champagne. Anywhere else, it is merely sparkling wine. Darjeeling tea cannot be grown in Ceylon. And one may make Dharwad peda in Bangalore but it is no good as just peda or Bangalore peda. The geographical indication of Dharwad is its tag of genuiness.
In the last few months that innocuous little spongy ball made from split milk and dunked in sugar syrup has raised quite a storm in the dessert bowl. The two Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha have, much to the amusement of the rest of us, been slogging it out, vehemently and vociferously, over the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the rosogolla, rasgulla, rasagula or roshogola. Whatever. We are sure that it would taste just as sweet by any name or spelling variant. Besides, in our opinion gulab jamuns take the cake any day and let’s not even go into the chenna murgis and the motichur laddoos. So, the victory, as finally announced last week by the Geographical Indications registry, lies with West Bengal. The sweet has been registered as the Banglar Rasogolla. Of course, the Chief Minister of the state lost no time in congratulating the people of West Bengal on something so momentous.
The state of Odisha had apparently filed reams of evidence that the rasagolla (another spelling variant) has been an offering at the famous and ancient Jagannath Puri temple for centuries. As such, it was claimed, it has been around in Odisha much longer than the Bengali version first made by a sweet shop in Calcutta for the sweet discerning palate of the Bengali populace. But it would seem that not even God can keep the rasogolla from being identified with the Bengalis. As it happens, the lord is probably left quite confused about the GI of his offerings. The priests would be well advised, for maximum blessing, to insert the GI in their offering prayer. After all it could well be counter productive if the deity in the temple starts to protest the authenticity of what is offered.
It just goes to show that the religion of food obviously trumps that of temples. This battle seems to have been resolved with minimal damage but we are not looking forward to the day someone decides to start a Biryani war. Each street corner of different towns, in each state of the country is likely to lay a claim to it. Things could get complicated. We better just be thankful the rasogolla GI is within the country, unlike the chicken tikka masala which is being claimed by the Brits!