Dubai: It’s a preparation of fresh cottage cheese balls soaked in saffron-flavoured thickened milk. The only rule - serve it chilled. Ras malai, the famous Indian dessert, came into being in 1932, when a father-son duo in the east Indian state of Kolkata, India, were experimenting with creating a new sweet dish.
Krishna Chandra Das (KC Das) and his youngest son Sarada Charan discovered the joy of ras malai at their legendary confectionery store - KC Das Private Ltd. in a lively shopping district called Bagbazaar. The sweet gets its name from two Hindi words. According to The Diner’s Dictionary - Word Origins of Food and Drink by Oxford University Press, ras malai is a combination of – ras, which means juice and malai, which means cream. Cream here roughly translates to fresh cottage cheese, and ras refers to the thickened milk.
Ask any Indian, and they will tell you how it is customary to take a sip of the chilled milk followed by a bite of ras malai. Drink it with a spoon or gulp it down straight from the bowl, there is no right or wrong way to eat ras malai. It’s also impossible to stop at just one, especially when served chilled on a hot summer day.
Long before there were refrigerators, this milk-based treat was served in kulhads or earthenware bowls – a naturally cooling ceramic. Years later, serving ras malai in kulhads is a trend many confectioners and restaurants are returning to.
Tracing the origin
The mentions of ras malai can be traced in Indian food scientist and historian K.T Achaya’s book - A Historical Companion. In it, he explains what led to the discovery of this sweet.
In 1868, 22-year-old Nobin Chandra Das of Sutanati (a former village that merged into Kolkata city) created the rasogolla or cottage cheese balls steamed and steeped in sugar syrup. Fifty years later, Krishna Chandra Das (K C Das)adapted the rasogolla recipe to create the milk-based ras malai.
Gulf News food team got in touch with the great-grandson and director of KC Das Private Limited - Dhiman Das. During the telephonic interview, Das said: “Rasogolla was an invention and ras malai an innovation because rasogolla led to ras malai. My great grandfather had five children, and, along with his youngest son - Sarada Charan, he first made ras malais. Sarada Charan was a research assistant in the physics department of the Raja Bazaar Science College under Indian physicist and Nobel laureate Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman. Using his scientific application, through the reverse osmosis process, Sarada learned to preserve rasogullas and created canned rasogollas. His father (KC Das) was also a man of a scientific bent of mind and carried forward his son's experiment to create rossomalai."
Rasogolla was an invention and ras malai an innovation because rasogolla led to ras malai.
Das explained that in the same year, an advertisement announcing the innovation of ras malai was first published in a regional language newspaper. Sharing the first copy of the ad with us, Das explained what it said, “This is from 1932 that reads - New innovation, New innovation - Rasomalai, kept at the shop, is also the original bagbazar rasogolla and sondesh, address – Krishna Das, 85 Upper Chingpur, Jorasako, Phone Extension BB 3584.”
The shop located in Bagbazaar was at the heart of the large Marwari (trading) community based there, explained Das. “The Marwaris popularised this sweet dish, which eventually caught on across India.”
As its popularity spread, variations came about – the most popular being the plain ras malai and the saffron-flavoured known as kesar ras malai, which has a golden hue. All use pistachio slivers as garnish, along with dried rose petals in some cases.
Chef Guneet Singh Bindra of India Palace restaurant, Abu Dhabi, explained: “The cooking style of halwais or confectioners in different parts of India led to the creation of new flavours of ras malai. For instance, we have a fresh strawberry-flavoured ras malai on our menu.”
The cooking style of halwais or confectioners in different parts of India led to the creation of new flavours of ras malai. For instance, we have a fresh strawberry-flavoured ras malai on our menu
Similarly, during the mango season, you will find mango-flavoured ras malai on the menus of many Indian restaurants. However, nothing beats the classic. So here is a recipe shared by Chef Bindra for you to make kesar ras malai at home.
Here is a recipe by Chef Bindra to try
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