Food

The 'pehelwan lassi' is a must-try at Varanasi!

Over time: What was once an eight-foot-by-12-foot shop is now a famous brand with two branches in Varanasi   | Photo Credit: Anand Singh

I always believed lassi to be very Punjabi, but it is on every foodie’s trail in Varanasi as well. The locals swear by it and tourists can’t resist it: lassi shops outnumber any other shop in the spiritual city.

The hole-in-the-wall joints stand strong in every lane and bylane. Some carry strange names and others are just known as lassi ki dukan (lassi shop), identified by the locality they are in. Day or night, an overwhelming number of people crowd these street side shops, where you get not just the plain simple lassi but rather a macho sounding pehelwan lassi served in kulhads.

The Yadav brothers get up at 6 am everyday to hand churn the lassi themselves

The Yadav brothers get up at 6 am everyday to hand churn the lassi themselves   | Photo Credit: Anand Singh

“It was named so by our customers, when my father Panna Sardar took over the shop from his father in 1950,” says Manoj Yadav. Panna Sardar was a small time wrestler or pehlewan during the pre-Independence days, and had a local fan following. To further his lassi business, he tweaked it with ingredients like, malai, rabdi and almonds. Not only did people like the taste, but they also believed that the wrestler was selling what he himself consumed for his strength.

Customers started calling it pehelwan lassi, and the tiny eight-foot-by-12-foot shop at Malviya Chauraha on Lanka Road got its name. Over the years, the pehelwan lassi transformed into a brand and the six sons of Panna Sardar expanded their business. They now have two more shops, one at Ravidas Chauraha on Lanka Road and another near Assi Ghat.

Everybody in Varanasi makes decent lassi. But what sets one apart is the quality of milk and other ingredients.

Everybody in Varanasi makes decent lassi. But what sets one apart is the quality of milk and other ingredients.   | Photo Credit: Anand Singh

But simultaneously, says Manoj, more people, including extended family members, joined the bandwagon, each claiming their lassi to be as good as the original pehelwan’s. They set up shops with names such as Pehelwan ki lassi, Pehelwan’s lassi, Pahalwan lassi bhandar or Pehelwan’s sweet lassi and gained popularity too.

To be fair, he says, everybody in Varanasi makes decent lassi. But what sets one apart is the quality of milk and other ingredients. Says his brother Vijay, “Some shop owners have started using synthetic milk and yoghurt, and also blend sugar and curd in a blender to meet rush hour demand. But we don’t use machines at all.”

The brothers take turns from 6 am to well past midnight, making frothy lassi by whipping the curd in a big steel vessel with a wooden spindle rolling between the palms of their hands. They take immense care in preparing the curd. Their father’s old friend from a nearby village supplies fresh milk and they have their own marking system to check the standard. About 10-litre batches of milk are boiled with a dash of sugar and reduced to eight litres. The thickened and cooled milk is then set with the jaman in huge clay vessels.

“We do not add any extra sweetener,” says Manoj. He says he owes the business to his grandmother Subhadradevi, who would make it at home and for his grandfather Lobe Sardar to sell at a kiosk near Assi Ghat more than seven decades ago.

Given the shop’s proximity to the Banaras Hindu University, college goers are always hanging out. “Whenever there is an alumni meet at BHU, former students in their sixties and seventies come to our shop and, over lassi, they recall the old days,” says Brijesh. During the Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan in January this year, the brothers pooled in to supply different varieties of lassi for more than 5,000 invitees for three days. They are called in during big weddings and also to cater to the demands of cinestars during film shoots.

Pehelwan Lassi is a benchmark, says Dr Indraneel Basu, who has been a regular at the shop since 1983. He says the lassi is a natural and nutrient-dense drink, with no added flavour or preservative but loaded with probiotics, protein, fat and calcium.

“The taste remains deliciously same and is better than any ice cream,” adds the general practioner, “You can indulge yourself and burn it also easily!”

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Printable version | Apr 29, 2021 9:39:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-lot-can-happen-over-pehelwan-lassi/article26664530.ece

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