'"Most people don’t know that I use pineapple in the drink. Pulissery made with pineapple has got a special taste, so I thought why not put it in butter milk."
A small crowd is already there as we walk up to Mohanan’s wayside stall near the bustling Transport Bhavan at East Fort, where he sells his ‘special buttermilk’ (‘mooru’). Mohanan has little time to relax, so too his wife, Shakunthala, and son Vimal. He puts a little bit of the special mixture kept in two buckets into the glasses, then squeezes lemon juice into each of them. Thick, white buttermilk kept in an earthen pot is then poured into a glass. He puts ice in it and hands it over to customers who keep streaming in. Vimal is busy washing the glasses and also making sharbat for customers. Mohanan takes a small break for the chat. So how does he spice up the butter milk? He buys milk and ferments it at home. “A lot of ingredients go into the making of this mooru – curry leaves, coriander leaves, pudina leaves, pulinjikka, mango, pineapple, ginger, asafoetida powder, garlic, small onion, green chilli, lemon, Mali mulaku or the yellow lantern chilli, kanthari mulaku (bird’s eye chilli), green chilli, salt and water.” Phew!
“Most people don’t know that I use pineapple in the drink. Pulissery made with pineapple has got a special taste, so I thought why not put it in buttermilk,” says Mohanan with a hearty smile. “Every morning, I go to Chalai market, buy the stuff and make the mix. Also, I keep curry leaves, garlic, small onion and different chilli varieties at the counter. Some people need their buttermilk really spicy and so I make a mix out of them and add to their drink,” he says.
Mohanan used to run a hotel in the city, but when the business came crashing down, he moved to his native place, Harippad. “There I used to sell this spicy buttermilk. Four years ago I returned to the city. This is now our bread and butter,” says Mohanan, who lives at Kuriathi. His eldest son Vishnu is a driver and daughter Viji is married.
The reason why he choose this business was his father. “He was very fond of mooru and had it every day, all spiced up with ginger, curry leaves and other stuff. I too love the drink.”
He makes buttermilk out of “50 litres of milk daily, except during the rainy season”. A glass costs Rs. 12. “When it rains, we can’t open the counter. Then I drive an auto. Nevertheless, we earn enough to make ends meet,” he says. He does business on all days from 8 a.m. onwards. By 3 p.m., everything is sold out. “Now we open shop on Sundays as well as I have to clear debts. But there aren’t enough customers on Sundays,” he says.
Before leaving, I did taste the drink. It could have been a bit more tangy, but then it was definitely soothing and refreshing!
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)