It's time to get back to masala chai and ragi malt…Indian traditional drinks that cleverly balance and blend a variety of flavours
Caramel tequila milkshake anyone? A blend of vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, milk and a couple of shots of tequila it's seems perfect for our iron-pumping, vitamin-popping, club-hopping generation.
After all, grabbing a chilled glass of milkshake chunky with ice-cream seems so much more hip that sipping archaic ragi malt from a gaudy steel tumbler. You might as well trade your slick Schwarzkopf gels for sachets of herbal hair powder. Your assiduously-gelled Mohawk for jasmine-scented plaits. Your Swiss skiing holiday for a weekend in Pichavaram. Right?
Actually, they're all pretty good ideas. Now that we finally have the benefit of hindsight, we're realising that our grandparents — none of whom needed to spend every morning sweating over elliptical machines — had many of the answers to today's lifestyle dilemmas. Natural products for their hair and skin. Local holidays, easy on both the pocket and the environment (currently reeling under the soaring air miles of the migrating masses.) And far fewer dangerously empty calories.
Unlike today's kids, reeling under too much sugar, chocolate and additives, most of us were brought up on glasses of warm milk intelligently flavoured with healing ingredients. Calming turmeric sweetened with caramelly jaggery and stirred into your bedtime cuppa, perfect for the tense and sleep-deprived. Almond-honey milk, spiked with cardamom, which — amongst its other virtues — soothes the digestive system, strengthens the immune system and counters depression. Then there's that powerhouse of nutrients, good old ragi malt, — unapologetically bright, stubbornly dowdy and deliciously comforting.
People say food is one of the most powerful triggers for nostalgia. However, there's nothing quite as effective as a childhood drink to make you feel about 10 years old again. I was recently with a bunch of tough and appropriately cynical journalists at an old-fashioned Irani café, when one of them discovered rose milk on the menu. Despite mocking laughter and much bullying, he ordered it, stating that he, like many Malayali children grew up on tall glasses of after-school rose milk. The transformation was astounding: One minute he was belligerently arguing foreign policy, the next he was blissfully sipping his embarrassingly pink drink with a big, goofy smile.
Still not convinced? Fine, I'm bringing out the big guns. An average milkshake (or frappe/ cold coffee/ smoothie — call it what you want, it's still going to eventually give you the behind of a bus) contains anything from 300 to 1,000 calories, most of them empty. According to Yahoo Health, America's unhealthiest drink is a Baskin Robbin's Large Heath Bar Shake. It has 2,310 calories. That's will take about 240 minutes of running on a treadmill to burn.
Luxuriously creamy masala milk, on the other hand, is not just far less dangerous but also has benefits thanks to its Ayuvedically-approved ingredients: honey, saffron, cardamom and almonds. It might not be a dietician's dream beverage, but it certainly beats fattening yourself with the empty calories, additives and (quite often) corn syrup of conventional milkshakes. Even overly-indulgent thandaai includes healthy natural ingredients such as fennel, cloves, pistachio and melon seeds.
Indian traditional drinks are actually extremely sophisticated, cleverly balancing and blending a variety of flavours. They are also intelligently created, with each ingredient serving a purpose. Even the temperature's deliberate. Ever wondered why so many of our milk drinks are warm, while the western world celebrates chilled milk? Ayurveda states that cold, unspiced milk eaten with unsuitable food can be bad for health. Boiling milk makes it more easily digestible. The spices — cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and black pepper — also work better.
Naturopathy also promotes milk with ingredients such as grated nutmeg, coriander, fresh ginger and cardamom — depending on what your ailment is. They even suggest adding a couple of teaspoons of ghee to warm milk to aid sleep.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. Tequila will probably work as well. But no, that's the one thing I couldn't find in desi retro milk records. Sorry. Perhaps you can drown your sorrow in saffron-tinted masala chai instead?