Shaken and stirred, with and without ice, summer is the season to indulge in a spectrum of thirstbusters in Kerala.
Thiruvananthapuram’s special is the bonji. Sold at several tiny outlets all over the city and its suburbs, everyone has his or her favourite place for their glass of bonji to chill. Leave the district and you have to ask for naranga vellam (lemonade) to slake your thirst. Depending on your taste, vendors can flavour it with ginger, salt, cardamom, sarsaparilla, khus khus, mint and chia seeds or a slice of zesty pineapple.
Equally popular as a thirst quencher is sambharam, aka spiced buttermilk. Sold by roadside vendors and tiny stall owners, the sambharam can be a simple mix of buttermilk, salt, green chilli and curry leaves or a mocktail of pickles and greens.
Water of tender coconuts is Kerala’s natural cooler for all seasons. Every corner has vendors offering this healthy, natural health drink. Innovative mixologists have now come up with a variety of karikku (tender coconut) shakes and smoothies, enriched with frozen milk, dates, dry fruits, khus-khus, chia seeds and so on. If karikku is your choice, try these interesting shakes in myriad flavours.
In summer, purple-coloured Nongu (ice apple) appear at vantage places, mostly in Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad. Sip on its natural flavour and slurp on its flesh or have it flavoured with a twist of lime juice. Many swear on its terrific cooling effect on the body.
As tastes evolve and health concerns come to the fore, a new range of drinks have got added. Perhaps the first and the most popular is a non-descript outlet that has made its reputation on its ‘herbal drinks’, shakes and fresh juice. Chithira Juice Bar at Theekumodu, Thiruvananthapuram, functioning since 2000, serves natural flavours. The drinks are low on sugar and garnished with a mind-boggling variety of greens. Aloe vera, thazhuthama (hogweed), mint, coriander leaves and wheatgrass are just some of the ingredients that add flavour to the cooler. Another top seller here is the karikku shakes with dates, honey and dry fruits.
On the menu are an array of drinks, shakes and smoothies sweetened with jaggery or honey. Sugar is added only if you ask for it.
Suresh Babu, the owner of Chithira, laughs when he is asked how he arrived at these experimental thirst quenchers. “I made them to suit my customer’s demands. For instance, diabetics find it hard to find a drink on a hot summer day. A customer asked me if I would fix him a ‘healthy drink’ and that is how I made my signature herbal drink’ with 28 ingredients in it and no sugar.”
As juice bars mushroomed all over town, mocktails have captured those on the lookout for new coolers to beat the heat. Made with fruits and flavoured with native and new taste enhancers, these are served shaken and stirred. Right on top is the ubiquitous ‘Sharjah’, a tip off to Kerala’s close links with West Asia.
Rasakadali, a variety of small yellow bananas, is blended with frozen milk, sugar, groundnuts and a dash of Horlicks for that unbeatable taste of a true-blue Sharjah. At present, Sharjah comes in many avatars, with chocolate, fruits, dry fruits and whatnot. The USP of a Sharjah is that it takes care of hunger pangs and thirst. Although it is believed to have been born in Kozhikode, there is hardly a place in the State where you cannot get a Sharjah.
Over the years, mocktails have found an indelible space among the coolers in Kerala. Local mixologists have concocted a bewildering array of drinks that blend local fruits, exotic ones from overseas, spiked with spices and ingredients like sarsaparilla, khus-khus and so on.
One newcomer to the capital city is Coco Cane, which has fresh sugarcane juice, mixed with a natural fruit juice of your choice such as lemon, orange, grape, watermelon etc. The ‘Kallu Soda’ shop in Kollam, once the cashew capital of Kerala, even has a cashew drink that has crushed cashew paste as one of its ingredients.
Giving these a run for their money are Kombucha and the raw juice of fruits like dragon fruit, rambutan and mandarin oranges.
Several drinks are made from native fruits such as gooseberry, bilimbi and even ash gourd. The tartness of the citrus fruits are mitigated with green chilli, ginger and are in demand among those who want to shun sugar.
Sip on these thirst-busters, each made as you like it.