The lure of lassi

Lassi is a great coolant – whether it is given a twist adding fruits, or kept simple with a dash of sugar or salt.

June 13, 2016 03:12 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:41 pm IST - Bengaluru

Take your pick -- from strawberry and mango to dry fruit: Photo by author

Take your pick -- from strawberry and mango to dry fruit: Photo by author

A lassi bar on Lavelle Road in a Bengaluru of the 1970s ...imagine. Probably one of the earliest times when a concoction from the north was available here? In the south it has largely been a much watered down buttermilk that has been the cooling drink.

With a history of over 40 years, Sreeraj Lassi Bar is one of the most iconic spots on the city’s food map. For many of us old timers here, the place holds strong gustatory memories. In simpler times, it was a Sunday family treat... almost a revered ritual — going to Cubbon Park and then treated to the lusciously thick lassi and creamy kulfis at Sreeraj Lassi Bar.

The memory of that same taste is refreshed each time you have their goodies, because things haven’t changed much at Sreeraj. Milk still comes from a dairy farm in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu. It is still boiled on wooden fires -- one of the open secrets of the distinct taste that all their products have. The curd is made in-house. Any milk found unsatisfactory while boiling at their Shantinagar factory is sent right back!

Abdu Rahiman, who came from Kerala to Bengaluru in the 1970s initially sold kulfis on the street out of boxes. After a few years of struggle, Sreeraj Hotel on Lavelle Road offered him space to set up a stall, and the lucky name has stuck on to the legendary chain ever since. Today they have nine branches spread across Bengaluru and one in Dubai, with a second soon to be added.

Today, Abdu Rahiman is no more and Sreeraj Lassi Bar is run by his three sons. Kahab C.K., the youngest of the three, talks of how they initially started with four flavours of lassi – sweet, salt, khara and pudina. They are served in thick tall glass tumblers. Mango lassi, introduced in summer, is a hot favourite and continues to be on the menu seasonally. You just need to take a sip of this divine drink. In fact it is so thick you can eat it with a spoon! Apparently the consistency is maintained by putting the lassi though a churner, not a conventional mixer. Sweet mango does a tango with the slightly sour notes of the lassi and the final balance it creates is sublime. Another seasonal favourite is the pink jewel-toned strawberry lassi.

“Fresh fruits go well with lassi,” observes Kahab. Their pineapple and grape lassi, available through the year, are the other classic staples. Their more recent addition is the mixed fruit lassi -- starring apple, banana, pineapple and papaya. Lassi is traditionally sought out as a “coolant”, more so in summers, but people are apparently not deterred by winters either.

They have 11 varieties of lassi priced between Rs. 30 to Rs. 70, including the kesar flavour laced dry fruit lassi, introduced four years ago. This one is the best of both worlds – the kesar flavour is reminiscent of their kulfi, but lassi can never be tinglingly saccharine sweet, it has got the goodness of dry fruits and the crunch of almonds, it is cold enough but never too chilled (unless you request ice in it). A hot favourite during Ramzan, points out Kahab. But sweet lassi remains a top seller -- simple and sweet.

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