When all modern efforts and countless bottled beverages fail to give relief from the rising temperatures and scorching heat, these age-old traditional summer drinks come to the rescue.
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The undecorated, taken for granted, sattu (roasted gram flour) is Bihar’s hero. It’s light on the stomach and is savoured all year round as litti – dough balls filled with sattu, onion, and green chillies and as a sherbet – sweetened with jaggery which is a complete meal in itself. Its effect is therapeutic, therefore, it’s consumed both in summer and winter seasons.
Karnataka’s ragi ambali or Rajasthan’s raabdi similarly celebrate ragi and bajra respectively. The former is cooked in water and then mixed with buttermilk, while the latter is cooked with thinned buttermilk, is a go-to appetising soup served hot in winter in kulhads and a perfectly refreshing summer drink that’s served chilled the following day with a sprinkle of ground roasted jeera.
Bengali homes swear by posto bata or aloo posto, they claim that these tiny poppy seeds help beat the summer heat. Called khus khus elsewhere, they are loaded with medicinal properties and are said to be sleep-inducing.
Some people might have fond memories of devouring these sweet and sour berries called phalsa, with a sprinkle of black salt in the peak of summer. These delicious berries are furthermore enjoyed as a drink that’s prepared with its pulp, mixed with sugar and cold water, and severed with ice cubes.
The bael sherbet, however, took a long time for the taste buds to develop a liking for. The wood-apple, although it enjoys its sacred status as its leaves are offered to Lord Shiva, is preferable to the unaccustomed palate as a drink than as a fruit.
The kokum sherbet holds a special place in the hearts of many South Indians. This appetising, crimson coloured juice is grandma’s secret to curing acidity. Kokum is also known as Malabar tamarind. It’s a close cousin to thekera from Assam, both making for cooling summer drinks and souring agents in curries.
The Marwar region of Rajasthan meanwhile remains loyal to tamarind. Its imli ka amlana is a delightful mix of sweet, sour, and spicy – tamarind pulp mixed with water, sugar/jaggery, salt, pepper, cumin powder, and fresh mint leaves.
Be it in the form of raita or lassi – curd is the quintessential summer superfood. In the south, it is neer mor – buttermilk spiced with asafoetida, ginger, green chillies, and curry leaves. North India’s chaach or west’s chaas being a simpler version.
It is, however, in its Bengali version called gondhoraj ghol, that it ups its game. The oblong gondhoraj lebu (lime) is a pulpy variety that is synonymous with a Bengali meal. When mixed with curd, sugar, black, or rock salt, its unusual flavour calms both body and senses.
Gujarati people are ones known to turn something ordinary into something lavish. So, they take the already affluent shrikhand – mix it with buttermilk, nutmeg, various dry fruits, and saffron to make it a drink of the Gods – piyush (literally meaning the same). It sure does taste like one too!
Spices and herbs
Panakam is a ritual offering prepared for Ram Navami in Tamil households. As the occasion coincides with the arrival of summer, the beverage which is a mix of jaggery, lime juice, edible camphor, peppercorns, and ginger powder, makes appearances in many daily meals thereafter.
In northern India, especially in Mathura-Vrindavan, a cool, festive summer drink called thandai is the podium of Holi celebrations and is savoured by all. This milky drink boasts of numerous ingredients like almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon seeds, rose petals, black pepper, vetiver or khus (used to make sherbet) seeds, cardamom, and saffron being the regulars; many secret thandai recipes include more.
The famous Gujarati variyali nu sharbat is made by soaking fennel seeds and black resins, rock sugar, and lemon juice, and is a poorer distant relative to the thandai but its cooling properties are no less. Much like the jigarthanda from Madurai which is a concoction of chilled milk, nannari syrup (made from sarsaparilla a wonder herb that is believed to cure seasonal ailments), basundi or rabdi, almond gum/ katira gond, and ice cream made from reduced milk. It’s sure to keep you cool this summer.