The reputation of the traditional dessert of Comilla is under threat from cheaper imitations produced by dishonest businessmen who have set up many shops in the town to capitalise on its popularity.
Comilla is proudly known for its roshomalai, a dessert of South Asian origin made from fresh, unripe curd cheese soaked in flavoured cream or milk.
But Matri Bhander, the real roshomalai maker of the town, is losing out after lower quality businesses renamed their shops similar to the genuine business for more profit, hence destroying the reputation of this traditional sweet.
“The fame and tradition of this city is being tarnished in the hands of these dishonest businessmen,” Ali Akbar Masum, president of Comilla Sachetan Nagorik Committee, said. “Everyone needs to become aware to try to keep the traditions associated with this city.”
Originally known as “kheerbhog”and made by the Ghosh community from India's Tripura state who were residing in Comilla, roshomalai consisted of thick milk being mixed with dry food or roshogolla (curd cheese soaked in sugar syrup).
The original Matri Bhander brand was founded by brothers Khanindra Sen and Manindra Sen from Brahmanbaria, who opened a shop in the Manoharpur area of Comilla. Sales began to surge and their roshomalai spread across the community due to its extraordinary taste, which in time became Comilla’s tradition.
Following the deaths of the brothers, Khaninder’s son, Shanker Sen, took over the responsibility of the family business. Shanker, who is himself now old and frail, said the shop was popular even during the period of occupation by Pakistan.
At present, the shop is run by two well-trained craftsmen, Uttam Dey and Khittish Modak, from whom other interested artisans can take lessons on how to make the famous roshomalai.
Matri Bhander sells Tk1 lakh per day, selling at Tk260 per kilogram. Unlucky customers can even return empty handed from their shop.
The fake Matri Bhander, reselling their business's name as Matri Vander in Comilla | Dhaka Tribune
According to the craftsmen of Matri Bhander, the process includes boiling one maund (around 40kg) of pure cow’s milk for two hours, to reduce the milk to 13-14kg of thick cream. Later, small roshogolla are added to the thick cream, which completes the dessert.
The flavour and price of roshomalai depends on the thickness of the cream. Lower quality batches are prepared by turning 40kg of milk to 30-35kg of cream, giving a different taste.
Furthermore, these adulterated roshomalai are made with Indian powdered milk, rather than fresh milk. Where genuine roshogolla are made from curd cheese added with 65 grams of flour, the adulterated versions are made with curd cheese mixed with 250 grams of flour, hence reducing the production cost and quality of the dessert. These batches are sold cheaper than the original.
Fraudulent businessmen have been claiming to claim to sell genuine roshomalai by using the original Matri Bhander’s name in different ways.
Variations include Comilla Matri Bhander, Comillar Matri Vander, Adi Matri Bhander, Comillar Bikhyato Matri Bhander (Comilla’s famous Matri Bhander), Comillar Oitijjobahi Matri Bhander (Comilla’s traditional Matri Bhander), Moynamoti Matri Bhander and Khati Matri Bhander (Real Matri Bhander).
Abdus Salam, who set up his roshomalai shop on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway a year ago, said his business was not doing well before he changed its name to Matri Bhander.
Upon further research, it has been found that people who are aware of the genuine dessert do not buy the adulterated roshomalai.
Comilla District Commissioner Mohammad Jahangir Alam said they are powerless to clamp down on the fraud, since neither the genuine or imitation manufacturers had registered their company names.
“During a search for district branding, the Matri Bhander businesses were unable to present any registration papers,” he said. “Also the genuine brand itself does not wish to register its name. If they register their name on papers, that is when we can take legal action against the other dishonest businesses.”