Sambalpur: When in Sambalpur, along with the silky drapes and folk drums ringing in your ears, the smell of freshly made ‘Sarsatia’ is sure to take your heart away. A batter woven like a net in oil, fried with love and a lot of tenderness, with perfect crispiness is pure delight in the Western part of Odisha.

Local and exclusive only to Sambalpur, Sarsatia is made from the resin of Ganjer roots, rice flour, and sugar. Prabhulal Gupta, who is one of the most popular Sarsatia makers in Kunjel Pada, says that they soak the Ganjer roots overnight. “We soak it overnight, and mix it with rice flour and sugar make a consistent paste and use the batter,” he said. (The entire process of extracting resin by soaking Ganjer roots overnight, was devised by the Oraon tribe.)

Gupta’s family has been doing this since ages. “Our shop is almost 180 years old and that is the oldest memory I know of, about Sarsatia in Sambalpur. I am not sure how it came about, but it was a popular delicacy among the royal families. With time, the locals started preparing it too,” he said.

However, if stories are to be believed, Prabhulal Gupta’s great grandfather who was a popular sweetmaker, experimented with resin and rice flour that ended up in this smooth, mouth-watering dish. He had a shop with no name, that the generations carried on as ‘Maa Samlei Sarsatia Dukan’, which serves about 400-500 Sarsatia in a day. “People from different parts of the country come down to taste it. It was not as popular but in the last one decade, since media and bloggers started exploring and talking about us, Sarsatia got the limelight,” added Gupta.

Sarsatia, unlike several other sweet dishes, is a popular breakfast and has several health benefits. Gupta says even diabetic patients can eat it without any worry. It helps in strengthening your body. This is also offered as ‘bhog’ to Ramchandi and Samaleswari goddess in Sambalpur.

The most challenging and tricky part about making a Sarsatia is finding the right consistency and layering it well. “It might break or get messy. To make it properly, one has to be adept at folding it like a napkin, inside the pan of oil, with a spatula!”

Mentioning the historical aspect of it, senior food columnist Madhulika Das, writes in one of her articles in The New Indian Express, “Sarsatia is a fascinating indigenous innovation that pays tribute to the Chauhan style of sweet making and one of the most valued possessions of ancient sea trade- resin(and its extraction).” She mentions that resin, an essential ingredient in Sarsatia, became one of the two major reasons that earned Sambalpur (Sambalaka then), its fame.