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Tamil Nadu’s Cool Drinks

Coconut vendor selling from his bicycle in Tamil Nadu.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images

Yes, we know there’s always chilled beer. But this is Tamil Nadu we’re talking about. You can get a table at one of the clubby bars and drink up your pints at sundown across the big cities. However, for the traveller on the go, the state offers a range of local drinks that are both cooling and organic. As Rajinikanth, the beloved Tamil movie star would say, there’s no better way to stay “jill” or chill than a cold drink on a hot day.

Elaneer: Okay, this is a no-brainer. On the coast this makes for an easy, cheap, hygienic and organic drink. It’s tender coconut water we’re talking about or elaneer. At any of the cities, and not just by the beach, you can find folks sitting behind mounds of green tender coconuts and selling them to passers-by. They will ask you if you want “only water” or “with flesh”. I am a sucker for the flesh. So after the seller lops of a coconut top and drops a straw, drink to your fill and give the coconut right back to him. He will halve the coconut and scoop the translucent white flesh off its middle and make a spoon with the shell. Scoop and swallow. It’s divine.

Neer more: If north Indians have their chaach, the Tamils swear by yoghurt, curds and neer more to stay cool. Neer more as the word says, is lighter than regular butter milk and has more water. But it gets its crunch and flavouring from its garnish ­– karuvepillai (curry leaves), kothamalli (cilantro), ginger bits and a dash of lemon. Even without crushed ice it’s a real thirst quencher. At villages, people store it in earthen pots to cool it the organic way.

Panagam: This is an ancient recipe earmarked for festive occasions. But it makes for a sweet and cooling down homespun cocktail. Made of one part liquid jaggery concentrate, one part lemon juice and filled with water and a flavouring of elaichi, it’s a cool drink famously associated with Ram Navami festivities, but is an all-time summer quencher.

Saathukudi juice: Don’t be surprised if you find small kiosks or shops that have boards that scream Hot & Cool Bar in multi-colour. We’re like that only. These are non-alcoholic pit-stops for a hot or cold beverage. Of late these are also called juice bars in Chennai and elsewhere. If you’re worried about quality of water and hygiene stop at a reputed place like Saravana Bhavan. Order for a pulpy saathukudi juice (mausambi or sweet lime) in a tall glass. It doesn’t get juicier than this.

Jil Jil Jigarthanda: Movie maniacs, not to be confused with popular movie of same name. If you’re in Madurai especially, and other southern parts of Tamil Nadu, this is one cool option. This is a drink made of boiled and cooled milk, badam essence, sarsaparilla, rose syrup topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, found all over Madurai. The north Indian name must have been made popular following the Islamic presence in Madurai centuries ago. This chilled (jill) drink is said to cool you down instantly.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Sudha G Tilak has lived and worked in Chennai as a journalist but is currently based in Delhi.