Madurai’s signature

There is no record of its history, origin or even taste. Yet nobody knows jigarthanda better than perhaps the locals of Madurai, who have fashioned it into a popular staple drink.

The city is full of jigarthanda sellers and there are subtle differences in the versions available. But ask anyone where to get the best one, and they all point to the ‘Famous Jigarthanda-since 1977’ on East Marret Street.

People attribute different theories to the very Hindi name for the Madurai drink — from the Mughals bringing it to the city in the 1600s to the Arcot Nawabs introducing it in the 1800s. But actually, the Madurai jigarthanda that is unanimously loved by all is four decades old, and was started by an ice cream seller. Today, P S Sheikh Meeran’s four sons have expanded the business into a chain of nine shops in Madurai and 35 across Tamil Nadu.


It is the oldest shop at the corner of East Marret Street that does business like none of the others. Sheikh Meeran’s second son, 42-year-old S Jintha Mathar, holds fort here now.

Ten people manage this shop that sells not less than 1,000 glasses of jigarthanda a day between 10.30 am and 10.30 pm, with only one holiday — on Diwali — every year.

What goes into its making? Jintha Mathar lists thick, reduced milk. “In our factory, we boil 100 litres of cow’s milk in multiple batches till it reduces to 40 litres and refrigerate it.” While most jigarthanda makers use kadal paasi, also known as china grass (or agar agar), Jintha Mathar uses what his father taught him. “We soak the natural body-coolant badam pisin (almond resin) overnight, grind it and add it to the main drink in a particular measure.” Home-made vanilla ice cream is another important ingredient. As is the sweet nannari (sarsaparilla) syrup, made by boiling the roots and mixing it with sugar and basundi (sweetened thickened milk). All these are mixed to make the thick shake that spells magic in the mouth.

“The taste of our jigarthanda has remained static,” says Jintha Mathar, who consumes five to six glasses a day. “With proteins in it, it is a perfect drink to beat the heat,” he says. At the shop, the process goes on mechanically for 12 hours. There is no time for a break, given the continuous stream of customers, who even parcel it. The pre-made thick milk, vanilla ice cream, badam pisin, basundi and nannari arrive in large vessels from the factory, just before the shop opens.

There are two master makers, who take turns in correctly putting each ingredient to perfect measure in a glass.

First, two ladles of chilled milk go in. Then a spoon of badam pisin, followed by some fresh milk. Layers of basundi are added and topped with a small scoop of ice cream, and the nannari syrup is spread over it like a sauce.

That makes it a glass of special jigarthanda, costing ₹50. The plain jigarthanda with no ice cream costs ₹25.

Jintha Mathar says that his father took three years to reach the superhit concoction. “He worked with a local ice cream company selling door-to-door from 10 am to 4 pm. In the evenings, he started making his own ice cream and adding different ingredients to enhance the taste and texture.

He sold his product from 6 pm to 10 pm on a pushcart. Every sale and feedback from customers helped him to tweak the recipe to perfection.”

“While the name jigarthanda automatically suited the drink he sold for 30 paise, he prefixed it with ‘Famous’, believing one day it will really be so,” says Jintha Mathar. Exactly 41 years ago, he set up shop at the intersection of South Masi Street and East Marret Street near the iconic Vilakku Thoon, Madurai’s light tower installed in 1840. And the super calorific jigarthanda is now going the distance.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 5:45:14 pm |