In many parts of India, traces of the advent of the summer season begin to show around March. Engulfed in the hot and humid weather, there’s only one thing that gives people a sense of respite — a refreshing sherbet made out of curd, lemon or any seasonal berries and fruits.
Although the concept of sherbet (sherbat/sharbat), often claimed to be the world’s first soft drink, is rooted in the Persian sharbat — a sugary concoction infused with flowers and fruits, its influence in India began to materialise during the Mughal rule. An anecdotal story also claims that Mughal emperor Babur would send people to the peaks of the Himalayas to fetch fresh ice to make him sharbat. Certain texts also attribute the invention of sharbat to the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras. Whatever may be the origin, sharbat, squashes or locally brewed beverages have continued to quench our thirst and satisfy our senses for centuries.
Not surprisingly then, India has an exhaustive list of drinks or coolers that go beyond the restraints of seasons and fill us with flavour, nostalgia and pure joy. Here are only a few lesser-known drinks you should try:
A delicacy from the northern region of India, famous in Jammu and Kashmir, Babri Beol is an ancient summer drink made of basil seeds or sabja seeds. Allegedly, it was the Mughal emperor Babur who had introduced these seeds to the people of this region.
Known for its subtle and refreshing flavour, Babri Beol is a beverage made from simple ingredients like milk, water, basil seeds and coconut. In the local language, it is also known as Kan Sherbat, with Kan meaning precious jewels, as a reference to the seeds that swell up into translucent pearls when soaked in water.
This is a unique beverage that is consumed warm or at room temperature but magically works as an excellent cooler. Originated in the banks of the Konkan coast which is known for its abundant produce of kokum or amsul, this blush coloured drink is made with coconut milk and kokum syrup with a surprising kick of chillies and spices like cumin and mustard seeds. A common mildly sweet and spicy beverage in Maharashtra yet to find its footing across the country, Sol Kadi is said to be the perfect way to end a spicy meal, especially during summer. It is also good for health and the soul.
Most of us know and have tasted buttermilk but West Bengal has its own version of buttermilk elevated by none other than the kind of flavours, the mighty lemon Gondhoraj. Known as Gondhoraj ghol, this drink is made out of curd, black salt, sugar, iced water and the aromatic brilliance of the Gondhoraj juice extracted out of an oblong-shaped dark green coloured lemon. While the summer season is the best time to have this, this simple beverage with complex flavours is often consumed all around the year, based on its availability.
Not for the faint-hearted, Chuak, is a locally-brewed beverage from Northeast India’s Tripura region which has an interesting blend of strong flavours. A rice-beer made by fermenting rice and beer, it is consumed during festivals and special social occasions like weddings. It is usually brewed by the most experienced elders of the community and shared with a family as a token of love and appreciation.
Another unique beverage from the eastern state of Chattisgarh, Tikhur, also known as Palo, is a processed rhizome of an indigenous herb called Curcuma Angustifolia. Also known as East Indian Arrowroot, this beverage is painstakingly prepared over days. It starts from foraging the native rhizome, followed by cleaning it and making a paste that is soaked overnight, decanted to separate the residue which is then sun-dried to make pristine globules of soluble starch. Rich in carbohydrates, the sweet watery drink made out of these globules is said to be very good for bone health and helps in keeping the body cool.
Made from the ice apple of the palmyra tree, this is an instant thirst-quencher that is popular in many parts of the country but is known by different names like Targola in Maharashtra, Taal in West Bengal, and Nongu in Tamil Nadu. Tender and filled with subtle flavours, this body cooler is also known for its versatility. Although traditionally made with simple ingredients like sugar, water and lime, many also combine it with mango, rose and milk.
500 ml boiled milk
A pinch of saffron (kesar) strands
1/2 tsp green cardamom (elaichi) powder
25 grams of Babri Beol/basil seeds
25 gms of chopped sliced almonds and pistachios.
1 cup water
2 tbsp grated dry coconut or 200 ml coconut milk instead)
Sugar to taste
Soak the basil seeds in 1 cup of water for at least 3 to 4 hours.
Once these start swelling up into balls, boil milk in a container and add cardamom powder.
Let it cool down and then add the soaked basil seeds.
Add sugar to taste and mix lightly with a spoon.
Add grated dried coconut or coconut milk to the concoction and mix well.
Sprinkle saffron and the dried fruits and refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours. It is best served chilled.
2 tbsp of dried palo or tikhur globules
2 medium blocks of Michri or rock sugar (Alternatively, normal sugar can also be used.)
2 cups of water
In a big jug or large glass add some water and tikhur globules. Stir untpil dissolved.
Clean the michri candies or rock sugar in running water and add it to the tikhur concoction.
Cover and wait for all of it to dissolve properly.
Mix well and strain the concoction through a fine-mesh strainer.
Stir well before serving with a topping of ice cubes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)