Sip, savour, soothe: Unique regional summer drinks of India

There are various iterations of 'aam panna' in India.  (Istockphoto)
There are various iterations of 'aam panna' in India. (Istockphoto)


Indulge guilt-free with summer elixirs, crafted with the finest herbs, fruits, and spices for healthy hydration

Almost two years ago, in the midst of a similarly torrid summer as this year’s, renowned nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar was hosting a Facebook live session for her followers. As part of her series on medicinal foods and drinks called ‘Recipes of India’, she demonstrated how to make something called variyali sharbat.

This summer drink from the state of Gujarat—made from just two ingredients saunf soaked overnight (fennel seeds) ground up with khaadi saakar (rock sugar candy) in a stone mortar and pestle, then strained and diluted with water—was something Diwekar claimed is not just a cool aid for summer. Hand grinding in a stone mortar pestle is an important step because it's a cold grind to preserve the aromas and essential oils of the spices as opposed to the grinding them in a mixer which heats up affecting the delicate essence. The drink acts as a a “liquid salve" for the insides. Helping one combat everything from constipation, bloating, excessive gas to helping eliminate prickly heat rash and promoting a good night’s sleep. Available widely across the country at both retail and online grocery stores under the brand names like Home Made and Mapros, this fennel-forward coolant is must-try. Motumal Tanumal Sharbatwala’s Sons has launched a sugar-free version of this sharbat.

Just like variyali sharbat, India has a treasure trove of relatively unknown, drinkable summer coolants simply waiting to be discovered and savoured.

Also read: Liven up drinks with homegrown liqueurs

Into the cool

Very similar to variyali sharbat is sheetal samagri found mainly in places like Mathura, Brajbhoomi and Vrindavan, given its Lord Krishna underpinnings. This summer beverage, literally translated into English as “cooling material" and made with fennel seeds and rock sugar, is further scented with green cardamom, black pepper and rose water. Its Krishna connection comes from a tale famous in Brajbhoomi that speaks of how after a post-prandial afternoon frolic at the riverside with his playmates, the Bal Krishna was welcomed back home by his mother Yashoda who was waiting at the door with a glass of cooling sheetal samagri.

Another summer drink moored in religious folklore is karbooje ka panna. A panna is the name given to an Indian beverage renowned for its heat-reducing properties. Here, muskmelon pulp and juice are flavoured with saffron and cardamom, sweetened with rock sugar and mixed with cold water to make a delightfully refreshing beverage. Offering this iteration of panna to Lord Krishna, especially during summer months, is part of the mid-day offertory meal called Raj Bhog at the ISCKON temple in Vrindavan. And as with most ISCKON temples across India and the world, this one too has its own Sri Govinda’s restaurant where in the summer season one can sample some karbooje ka panna.

Unusual Suspects

And while speaking of a panna, the most obvious ones that come to mind are the ubiquitous aam or mango iterations. However, Kerala gives its version quite an interesting spin. Called kulukki, which in Malayalam means ‘shaken’, this panna-adjacent, spicy summer drink is made from the pulp of boiled green mangoes that’s mixed with iced water, sugar, salt, chopped ginger, with soaked sabja (basil seeds) giving it that cooling factor, and conversely, slit green chillies for a bit of heat. It is believed that this drink gained popularity after it was first served around five decades ago at Shaji’s shop at the High Court Junction in Kochi. Though today, one can sample it at soft drink vending shops across Kerala, especially at the stalls that dot Kochi’s famous Marine Drive promenade.

Mainly used in religious ceremonies across India, sandalwood, a famous coolant is generally smeared all over the body in its paste form. Particularly as a beautifying ubtan during the summer. But ingesting it as part of a dish or drink is unheard of. But try explaining thatto India’s food loving Sindhi community, they enjoy chandanjo sharbat, a super cooling, thick and cloudy libation made from the powdered distillate bark of the sandalwood tree. Once mixed with sugar, lemon juice, soda or water and rose or kewra (screw pine) water, it morphs into a refreshing drink with a lingering presumed aftertaste. While this niche drink is best had at Sindhi homes and is not easily available to purchase in retail, if in Mumbai, one can pick up a concentrate version of it from the cart that sells all sorts of Sindhi papads and pickles parked outside Colaba’s famous Kailash Parbat restaurant.

Equally scented, but with a floral taste is the Himachali palash ka sharbat made from the dried flowers of the palash or flame of the forest tree. Akin to the crimson-hued buransh flower or rhododendron (that also goes into another tasty summer sharbat) from the same region, the cooling palash version is said to be packed with healing properties. This is because palash flowers are known for their calming and stress-relieving properties, while also being a rich source of antioxidants, which can help protect the body against free radical damage. Again, both palash and buransh concentrates are easily available in grocery stores and online. Under brand names like Khuvi Organics and Asharm E Store for palash. While Swadeshi Ayurved and Paras have versions of buransh sharbat concentrate and squashes.

Dairy Good

Curd is known for being rich in nutrients such as vitamin B12, potassium, calcium, whey protein, and magnesium. Besides these, it also contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support good gut health and aid in digestion. It’s a well-known fact that during summer, consuming curd can help regulate body temperature and replenish electrolytes lost through sweat.

This is why, starting from the spring festival of Basant Panchami, across Uttarakhand, one curd-centric drink comes to the fore. Called pallar, this smoky, spiced (generally with turmeric and cumin), fermented butter milk is traditionally served during festivals, and is said to boost the digestive system. In some parts of the state like the holy city of Rishikesh, pallar morphs into something called dhuaan chaas where the drink is smoked with ghee and sizzling coals before being served. One can try bottomless tumblers of pallar and dhuaan chaas, along with the aforementioned sheetal samagri at restaurants like VAAR and Jal & Jalebi, both in Rishikesh, besides numerous makeshift stalls that line the holy city’s many ghats, like the famous Triveni Ghat.

While not exhaustive, these cooling drinks from India’s culinary landscape aim to make the summer heat more bearable—one dainty sip or thirsty gulp at a time.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

Also read: A restaurant in Rishikesh offers a taste of food of the gods

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