India is a vast amalgamation of food cultures that is only an extension of its amazing diversity. Be it sweets or snacks, food or drinks, the country sees variety of every extent possible. Authentic and traditional recipes continue to rule the roost, even as modern interpretations and flavour fusions have seeped in effortlessly to define the contemporary appeal of Indian cuisine. While its food have been explored for long, some of the traditional drinks of the country are somewhat less profiled. Here’s attempting to bring out some such drinks of the Indian subcontinent that are as iconic as their meal counterparts-
Hailing from the northern part of India but relished everywhere in close regional variations is the classic nimbu paani. Popular also as shikanji, this sweet and salty concoction of lime juice and water is just the perfect refresher for the hot summer days. Zesty in its spices yet cooling to the core, this is one of the most common drinks you will encounter anywhere in the country.
India’s very own smoothie, lassi is one of the drinks most indulged in the subcontinent. A rich, creamy blend of churned yogurt with salt and spices or sugar and fruits, this is a particularly healthy and tasty treat in northern India. Simplistic in preparation yet as incorporating as possible in its many styles and types, this instant energiser and cooler can also quite easily lull you off to sleep with its heavy dose!
Gaajar ka doodh
Gaajar ka halwa has to be one of the most famous halwas across India. But there exists even a less popular but equally tasty drink counterpart of the delicious sweet dish. Gaajar ka doodh stems from the northern part of India and serves as a healthy beverage. Either as serving for guests or as occasional indulgence, this sweet whipping of carrots and milk with sugar is a tasty treat to relish. Of course, more ‘gourmet’ additions include khoya and nuts and spices. Either way though, this is one lesser known traditional drink doing the rounds in India since long. An ayurvedic remedy for health, carrot milk makes for a glass of lipsmacking goodness.
Almost like lassi but of a less thicker consistency, chaas is another summer go-to in India. The reason why buttermilk is effective as a summer coolant is mainly endowed by its slight tangy flavor. The indigenous Indian chaas has forever been noted for its utterly cooling properties. Freshly churned buttermilk has to be one of those summerly delectable drinks you can carelessly binge on.
One of the most interesting sounding drink recipes, Sharjah Shake is native to Kerala. Uniquely yummy in its range of ingredients, this is one very ‘distinct’ milkshake, at least in its wide range of modern additions. A blend of bananas with chilled milk and sugar, the Sharjah shake has however come to encompass an expansive range. From mixing in Horlicks or Boost or Bournvita or even coffee powder to adding scoops of ice cream and handful of nuts, the Sharjah Shake has only grown in taste- and stature over the years. Beating the scorching coastal heat with a glass of this king of all shakes sure sounds like the winning deal!
An ultimate favorite throughout the country and a Holi specialty, there’s a mix of very Indian emotions in each glass of thandai. With temperatures beginning to soar around this time of the year, Holis are as incomplete without servings of thandai. Bhang laced glasses of thandai, that is. A rich, divine concoction of milk with dry fruits and fragrant spices like fennel seeds and rose petals, gulping thandaais never feel the same the year round sans that generous dose of bhang. A chilled glass of bhang thandai is all the energy you need to go about the Holi day in all colors!
A traditional drink recipe from the mesmerising valley of Kashmir, Kahwa is essentially a hot savouring of tea but of a different kind. A green tea preparation sweetened with honey and sugar, kahwa is also infused with the addition of dried rose petals and saffron making it an altogether different aromatic and flavorful experience. Cinnamon, cardamon and dried fruits like almonds and walnuts are also often added, rendering this version of the chai ki chuski quite a distinctive dimension. A perfect winter remedy, kahwa is one of the most exotic teas you need to try out.
One of the many reasons that makes Goa so popular a tourist hotspot is its traditional alcoholic drink Feni. Whether it be the feni produced from cashew nut or that from palm toddy, this is a traditional beverage also largely marketed. As a specialty alcoholic beverage from Goa, the cashew feni was even awarded a Geographical Indication tag. A colorless, clear liquid that matures to develop a golden brown tint, feni encompasses a significant part of the culture of Goa and is one of the identity markers of the coastal Indian state.
While feni might be the most celebrated traditional alcoholic drink of India, its Keralian counterpart is not any obscure. The palm wide toddy enjoys as much prominence in the country. Specially with the local sour tasting kallu made from fermented sap, Kerala rises to intoxicated heights. Toddy is sometimes also served as the non alcoholic neera or pathaneer that is derived from the fresh sap of the palm tree.
Hailing from the city of Madurai down south in India is this very dramatic sounding traditional summer drink. Sweet and sinful in its rich array of ice cream and milk components, the drink also tends to be quite exotic in its other essentials. Whether that be almond gum or the more adventurous nannari (sarsaparilla roots) syrup, this drink turns out to be quite a health potion as well. A natural coolant and as effective a taste pleaser, jigarthanda also entices enough with its name!
Another of the drinks that emerged as an ancient remedy to a host of ailments is one of the most recognisable of Indian ‘offerings’. Haldhi doodh or turmeric milk is essentially as basic as it sounds. A mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine, this golden beverage is sipped on with religious adherence for the wide range of medicinal benefits it purportedly possesses. A sleep inducer and a potent staver of many diseases, this is one of the most common drinks in India.
Hailing from the royal land of Rajasthan is a traditional alcoholic drink no less royal. The Kesar Kasturi is special in stemming from one of the most expensive foods, saffron or kesar. The kesar lends this rich drink not just its name but also its sparkly golden color. With also other ingredients including Indian spices, milk, honey and dried fruits making up this rare spirit, Kesar Kasturi is definitely one of the most exotic traditional drinks you can lay your hands on.
From down south once again emerges a drink that is a respite from the scorching summer heat. Ambli or ragi ambali is a healthy beverage made with ragi or finger millet flour, buttermilk and water. Rich in calcium, ambali also is a drink that can aid with weight loss, thus adding to its popularity. Karnataka takes special pride in whipping up glasses and glasses of this concoction every summer.
Easily the most distinct of traditional drinks from the Indian subcontinent both in essence and in composition is the preparation of tanka torani. A prominent drink of Orissa, more prominently of the mahaprasadam of the Jagannath temple in Puri, this is a drink made with rice! Unlike the fermented rice beers stemming from the north eastern part of the country, tanka torani is almost a liquid meal in itself. Fermented rice is mashed into the rice water and spiked with yoghurt, lemon juice, lemon leaves, ginger and a tempering of curry leaves, cumin and chillies for a chaas like beverage that is served cold.
Come summers and India seeks solace in its servings of sharbat. Sattu sharbat is one among the many variations that is a specialty of Bihar. Cooling like every summer drink should be, this is also a mainstay of other regions in the country,albeit with tweaks. Made from sattu or roasted black gram powder, this spiced drink is also filling and nutritious. A digestie potion as well as a weight loss aid, sattu sharbat is more than just a drink; it is an all in one wonder.
A lemon based drink hailing from south India, panakam can be a festive delight or a summer staple. A traditional preparation during the Ram Navami celebrations, this jaggery based drink is a modest serving, though utterly soothing. Translating literally as sweet drink, panakam is made by combining jaggery and lime juice. With added flavours of cardamom and slightly spiced with a hint of dry ginger and black peppercorns, panakam turns up as a really unique take on the traditional lemonade recipe though it istelf is no less traditional a preparation in the country.
A beverage that finds widespread prevalence in the culinary ambits of Maharashtra and Gujarat, Piyush is dual deliciousness blended into one. A gastronomic delight made by combining the creamy goodness of a dessert shrikhand and the cooling essence of buttermilk, piyush turns out as a luscious sweet indulgence in itself. With spices such as nutmeg, cardamom and also saffron adding to the richness, both in aroma and in flavour, this effective summer cooler is a total delight for the senses.
From the city of Kochi in God’s own country Kerala, the Kulukki Sarbath is another of the southern drink delights. Distinctive in its method of preparation, this shaken lemonade is a delightful mix of the sweet and the spicy. Ingredients like basil seeds, ginger bits and green chilies along with the standard fare of lemon juice and sugar makes this pretty to look and delicious to devour drink an instant hit.
Most popular in its mango variant, so much so that mastani became ubiquitous to mango mastani, this drink from the city of Pune however had origins outside of the tropical fruit. A humble rose flavoured drink that which now commands salivating crowds with its mango essence, mastani tastes exactly how it sounds like. Mango milkshake topped with ice cream and dry fruits, this rich drink is a summer hotcake. Qualifying almost as a dessert, mastani is a summer staple in Pune.
Among the many healthy traditional drinks of India is the Maharashtrian offering of Solkadhi. Made from coconut milk and kokum, this refreshing, easy on the palate drink can be had with rice or even during and after meals. In its pretty light purple pink color, this digestive drink is mainly a summer specialty, known for its cleansing and cooling properties
Another refreshing beverage that is light on the stomach and acts as a digestive aid as well is jal jeera. A traditional Indian serving of goodness,this sounds like a blend of water with roasted cumin powder in its simplest form. However with essential additions like ginger, black pepper, mint, black salt, chilli powder with some tangy element, jaljeera becomes even more satisfying a drink to gulp down.
Ganne ka ras
For those who can’t do without their daily dose of sweetness, sugarcane juice is the cooling detour to opt for. Loaded with natural saccharines, ganne ka ras is all the remedy you needed for that sugar rush! Summer food in India is incomplete with this purely desi mocktail!
Saunf is the quintessential element of Indian cuisines that completes every meal. The mouth freshener that you need to experience that wholesomeness even after a flavourful meal, fennel seeds are aromatically appealing as well.
A well known summer cooler, saunf sherbet is another refreshing drink to seek solace in the heat of the summers. Fennel seeds are soaked overnight and the water is made zesty with the addition of pinches of sugar, black salt and a dash of lemon juice. Energising and refreshing to the core, you can ditch your morning cuppa for this delightful glass on particularly hot days.
Summer wouldn’t have been half the beauty it is if it weren’t for mangoes. The King of fruits make even those hot days seem like a breezy affair. Biting into the sweetness of ripe, luscious mangoes with the juice making its way all over you is one of our fondest childhood memories.
But for folks who like to take it fancy, you don’t really need to mess up with mangoes. Aamras or pulpy mango juice is the summer food in India that lets you relax, minus the hassle.
Aamras can be savoured as a dessert or as a side to other Indian staples- puris and phoolkeys. Either way, this utterly sweet treat makes summer all the more bearable for all.
It isn’t that it’s just the ripeness of mangoes that leave us salivating. The raw ones also hold their own appeal. Raw mangoes are juiced and then stirred with mild spices and salt. Whether it be for the tanginess or the refreshing aroma of it, a chilled glass of aam panna has all it takes to instantly cool you down.
Either be it for its theraupetic properties or its cooling power, amlas are a quintessential summer food in India. A powerhouse of vitamins, the Indian gooseberry is one of those citrus fruits that delivers coolness with its tanginess. With a somewhat astringent taste, amla juice is a potent cooler during the hot summer months.