It was the best of times for Bengal in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the height of the golden age of Bengal’s resurgence. From fine arts to commerce, from culture to industry, from literature to science, in all things there was a glorious flowering of exuberant excellence. The spirit of this era touched the world of confectionery too. In the 1860s, the man who chose this area to engage his genius was Nobin Chandra Das (1845-1925).
It was a humble beginning. In a tiny, obscure corner of Bagbazar in North Kolkata, Nobin Chandra set up a sweet shop in 1866, but the last thing he wanted was to run a mere sales counter. The passion to create something of his very own haunted him. His ambition was to create a completely original sweet, that would bring new excitement to the Bengali palate. There was in him an intense desire to create a sweetmeat that was never there before... the ultimate delicacy. He toiled for months, armed with imagination, skill and tenacity, and sometime in the year 1868, his labours paid off. He made small balls of casein (cottage cheese) and boiled them in hot sugar syrup. The result was a succulent, spongy sweet with a unique, distinctive taste. Nobin Das christened it the “Rossogolla” and a legend was born.
It was an amazing innovation, carving for Nobin Chandra a place in legend and history where he has been lodged securely since then. Connoisseurs of sweets fondly remember him as “Nobinmoira, the Columbus of Rossogolla” a sobriquet coined half in jest and half in admiration. Highbrow Bengalis, who till then had used the word “moira” or confectioner disparagingly, came to lace it with reverence when linking it with Nobin Chandra’s name. The legendary “Nobinmoira” was born out of and sustained by a deep and abiding love: the love a Bengali has for his sweets.
Nobin Chandra’s ancestors were sugar merchants of considerable social standing. Hailing originally from the district of Burdwan, the Dases had made Kolkata their home for eight generations by now Their house on a horseshoe bend on the river Ganges in Sutanotty (now Bagbazar), was well known even a century ago. Being respectable and prosperous sugar merchants, the family did not take kindly to Nobin Chandra’s decision to be a sweetmeat seller. His family itself disdainfully referred to him as a “moira.” Little did they imagine that history would transform their contempt into lasting adulation. But he put up with the ignominy without protest. Later, Nobin Chandra sought to vindicate his position by referring to the Puranas which first equated sweetmeat makers to the Brahmins in social status and later on to the ‘Kshatriyas' after being enrolled as soldiers under ‘Kartabiryarjun'. He published a booklet in this connection.