If there’s one area of the Indian foodscape that’s quickly becoming extinct, it’s traditional drinks that have humble but delicious origins. As more people become hesitant to drink unpackaged, unsterilized beverages from street stalls and juice vendors, we’re losing a number of interesting drinks that are imaginative, tasty and in many cases, healthy. When summertime rolls in, there is no excuse not to try your hand at making one of these drinks at home – and for those of you who’d like adult versions, we give you options to drink these straight into happy hour.
Sweet, salty and sour, aam panna is made with that quintessential summer ingredient – raw mangoes. The drink is made by boiling raw mangoes and turning it into a puree with mint, black salt and cumin. The black salt gives it a complex, earthy flavour, and the mint lends it a freshness that is much needed in the heat. Aam panna, which is popular all over North India is called kairi panha in Maharashtra. The flavours of the aam panna are complex on its own, so complement with a neutral but good quality vodka.
½ kg raw mango
1 tsp black salt
½ tsp cumin
pinch of asafoetida
2 cups water
sugar, to taste
In a large pot, bring the mangoes to a boil. Allow to cook for 20 minutes.
Once cool, peel and puree the mangoes in a blender.
Add the cumin, asafoetida, black salt and sugar.
Top up with water, and serve chilled.
There are as many varieties of nimbu paani as there are names for it. The most basic version has lime, water or soda with a dash of sugar and salt. The more elaborate ones include mint, cardamom and even some condensed milk. A North Indian variety of this drink called Shikanji has black salt and a pinch of cumin. A few strands of saffron are also added to it on occasion. Banta, which is a bottled version of nimbu paani has been sold since the end of the 19th century. Served in codd-neck bottles, the top of the bottle is sealed with a marble, giving the drink it’s name. Tequila with lime and salt is a classic combination, and is an easy way to elevate a homely nimbu paani.
2 large limes
Sugar, to taste
Mint leaves, for garnish
4 cups water
Ice, to serve
Squeeze the juice from the limes into a large jug, taking to care to ensure that the seeds don’t fall in.
Add the sugar, and stir until dissolved.
Next, add the water, garnish with mint leaves and serve chilled with ice.
Nannari, which is the root of the Indian sarsaparilla plant, has a citrusy, honey flavour that is extremely refreshing on a hot day. Popular in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and coastal Andhra Pradesh where it is known as sugandi, the sarsaparilla root is boiled with water and sugar and the resulting syrup is topped up with more water or lime juice and served with a sprinkling of soaked basil seeds. The plant is said to have medicinal properties, and helps in reducing body temperature and purifying blood. If you can get your hands on a good Caribbean dark rum, it will pair beautifully with the nannari sharbath – the molasses in the rum adding a low thrum to the citrusy drink.
To make the syrup:
100 g sarsaparilla root – washed and cut into smaller pieces, with the whites removed
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
To make the drink:
¼ cup sarsaparilla syrup
½ cup water
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp basil seeds, soaked
To make the syrup:
Add the chopped root to 2 cups boiling water and cover and let it sit overnight.
Strain through a cheesecloth and add sugar.
Bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook for twenty minutes on a medium flame or until the consistency resembles that of a thin syrup.
Pour into a bottle and refrigerate to use as needed.
To make the drink:
Pour ¼ cup of the syrup into a glass.
Add the lime juice and basil seeds.
Top with water and serve chilled.
This drink has its roots in Madurai and has several ingredients that make it a poster boy for summer drinks – sarsaparilla root syrup, chilled milk and almond gum or kadal paasi, as it is called. The almond gum, which is soaked overnight becomes stringy and gives the drink texture – much like vermicelli in a falooda. The origins of the drink are still contested – some believe that it was brought to the Deccan by the Mughals, whereas others believe that it has a strong Arab influence. Whatever its origins may be, it is now very firmly associated with the Madurai summer. A splash of Ameretto, an Italian liqueur, made of almonds and apricot pits, will be the perfect addition – don’t forget the maraschino cherry garnish on top.
5 cups full-fat milk
1 tsp almond gum
4 tbsp sarsaparilla root syrup
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
Soak the almond gum 1 cup water and let it sit overnight.
In a large pot, bring the milk to a boil, and reduce to half the original quantity.
To serve, in each glass, add ½ cup milk, 1 tsp of the sarsaparilla root syrup and a generous scoop ofthe almond gum. Top with ice cream and enjoy!
Sold on street carts all over Tamil Nadu, panneer, which means fragrant water (referring to rose water here), is added liberally to soda and topped with ice for a cheap and refreshing drink. This is one of those drinks that can be made much better in your own kitchen – use good quality rose water, a dash of rose essence, a few leaves of mint, and you have a drink that is sophisticated, as it is easy to prepare. Add sparkling rosé instead of soda and you have the ultimate brunch drink – so much better than a mimosa.
½ cup sugar
1 tsp rose water
1 cup water
a dash of rose essence
4 cans of soda
Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Add the rose water and rose syrup and allow to allow to cook for a few minutes, until the mixtures thickens slightly, about 5-6 minutes.
When the syrup cools down, add ¼ cup to a glass and top with soda. Serve chilled.
Sugarcane juice is a popular street-side drink that has been able to adapt with the times – the machines are now automated, and there are several versions of the drink to keep the customer satisfied. The original, however, had little else except for a dash of lime juice to cut through the saccharine sweetness of the cane. These days, it’s not unusual to see versions with ginger, lime or even mint. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could opt for all three! Limoncello with its fruity kick is a great addition to this drink, reducing the sweetness with a splash of Italian citrus.
¼ kg sugarcane, peeled and chopped.
½ inch ginger
2 cups waters
Mint leaves, to garnish
In a powerful blender, blitz the sugarcane with ginger and sugar, if adding any. Add half cup water if needed to help it puree.
Strain through a sieve.
Add the remaining water and serve chilled.
More’ or Sambaram
Salty, spiced buttermilk, served cold, might sound like an odd thirst quencher, but it is arguably the most popular summer drink in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Buttermilk seasoned with crushed ginger, curry leaves, green chillies and that magic ingredient, asafoetida might have you feeling like you’re sipping on a chilled curry, or maybe a chilled soup, but it grows on you very quickly. The best part is that it is extremely easy to whip up and is customisable. Gin with its herby botanicals complement the spiciness of the more’ nicely.
2 cups yoghurt that has been whisked to a smooth consistency
green chillies, slit
½ inch ginger, crushed
curry leaves, for garnish
asafoetida, a pinch
salt to taste
In a blender add the yogurt, water, salt, ginger, and asafoetida and blend until frothy.
Add the green chillies and refrigerate until cool.
Remove the green chilli before serving.
Photographs by Aysha Tanya, illustrations by Tasneem Amirrudin
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