I have always lived in a warm place. I mean, the Bombay of my childhood, although much cooler than it is now, always oscillated between, hot, hotter and hotter. Respite came once in the middle of the year when the skies opened up during the monsoon, only to return to a scorching October.
It wasn’t until the year began to draw to a close around Diwali and Christmas that our cardigans and sweaters emerged from mothballs. Otherwise, life was torrid, humid and hot.
Everyone carried a water bottle, the little pampered used a thermos bottle which kept the water cold for a long time. I would freeze my water bottle at night and carry it rock solid to school. In the afternoon, the ice melted but the water remained cold, if not freezing. But as we got older and more self-aware, carrying a water bottle was considered a bit “namby-pamby”?
While extremely pragmatic, having a teenager dragging a bottle of water with him was positively detrimental to image and mythos. Cold water in this “pre-Bisleri” era was available on the road and was dispensed from large square aluminum insulated tanks, mounted on a bicycle.
The filthy young man selling cold water on a hot day was everywhere. The bike-mounted tank had a plunger and a U-shaped tap on top. Metal drinking cups were chained to the tank. For 10 paise you could drink a glass of cold water, i.e. a bottle of mineral water which cost 10 rupees was well beyond the reach of anyone except extremely wealthy people.
This water was like nectar when the sun was burning on a sweltering hot day until you tried to find out where this water came from and what the source was. It can come from a municipal tap or maybe even from the gutter. Who knows?
The other unhygienic drink that was so refreshing and glorious on a hot day was sugarcane juice. There was a type of candy cane juice on every sidewalk. At any time, there would be a crowd around his stand. Long sugarcane stored in a squalid cart, shamelessly crushed in your presence in the most unsanitary environment with unprotected pieces of lemon and ginger, poured into sticky, unwashed utensils, a grain of flies buzzing around the juice sweet, perhaps even crushed between the canes.
The man was inserting long canes into two iron crushing rollers, to which bells were attached. With the cane, he fed on pieces of ginger. Ringing bells heralded the green juice as it exited from between the grinder and into a grimy steel container.
Once sufficiently collected, the juice with a frothy head was poured over pieces of ice (source unknown) and served in tall, carefully rinsed used glasses. Nothing tasted better than “ganne ka rasor sugar cane juice on a hot summer day.
Now from the plebs straight to the elite. Many summer holidays have been spent lounging by the pool at the Willingdon Club. It’s nice to be in the water on a hot day and then laze on a lounge chair and order some refreshing drinks. I wasn’t old enough to swallow cold lager yet, but an “ice cream float” was legit.
Let me try to explain what an ice cream float is. An ice cream float or ice cream soda (as it is called in the US) is a chilled flavored drink poured over a scoop of ice cream in a tall glass. My favorite has always been the Coca-Cola Float. A cold Coke poured into a glass filled with vanilla ice cream. The already carbonated liquid rises to the top of the glass in the form of a creamy foam, whipping the ice cream.
You continue to periodically add the rest of the drink to the bottle as you sip through the float. You can change the favors to your liking. You could make vanilla ice cream and orangeade or lemonade. Strawberry ice cream with a sparkling raspberry drink. Or maybe even a beer with an ice cream of your choice!
If I became indigenous, thechaos“is probably the healthiest summer drink you can have. I’ve always preferred”lassi” for “chaos” but I learned the benefits of chaos only after i got addicted to sweet lassi. Not the kind of candy lassi decorated with dried fruits, flavored with saffron and topped with cream. Just a simple candy, end lassi which is churned so hard that it foams on top and can be swallowed as a refreshing, undiluted liquid shrikhand.
After consuming lassi by glasses, I discovered the chaos. Extremely healthy, refreshing and digestive, chaos is made by mixing yogurt and cold water without sugar. In fact, it is often fortified with salt, green chilies, cilantro, asafoetida and Jeera. Often chaos is made from yogurt that is a few days old and slightly sour. You can literally go down glasses and glasses of ‘chaos‘ without any adverse effects on weight or well-being.
There are so many summer drinks that are common in so many parts of the country. In mango season, it’s I’m panna, made from raw mango pulp and sugar and blended with cardamom and nutmeg. Then there is the street side kala khatta with tons of black salt. Or sattu ka sharbatbased on roasted chickpea powder, ice water, with or without sugar.
Then there is jal jera, cumin seeds roasted and mixed with water with coriander and crushed peppers. In Madurai and other parts of the south, they do Jigarthandait is a drink made from milk mixed with nannari (Saraseparilla) root syrup.
Maharashtra is famous for its kokum sorbet. Found along the Konkan and Malabar Coast, kokum is a sour summer fruit. Mixed with sugar syrup, it is a bright pinkish red sweet and sour drink that is refreshing when chilled.
There’s a whole world when it comes to local Indian drinks, but my favorite summer drink is a milky pink liquid, which we call “doodh cold drink”. It’s half a glass of rose sorbet, made with water and Rooh Afzah, and half a glass of milk, chilled in ice. You try, and tell me if I’m wrong.
Kunal Vijayakar is a Mumbai-based food writer. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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