Diwali brings with it a host of delicious-sounding traditional drinks. Have you’ve tried any, and what are your favourites?
All over the world eating and drinking is at the heart of religious festivals, and Diwali, which begins tomorrow, is no exception. While many traditional Diwali snacks are very well accompanied by cold beer and many restaurants offer alcoholic drinks with their Diwali menus, booze is not normally drunk during the festival. That’s not to say that it’s seriously frowned upon – indeed, many people celebrate with champagne, wine, beer or whisky – but it’s not traditional.
At festive family gatherings, trays crammed with fragrant, colourful juices, mocktails and other soft drinks are passed around, the most popular of which are sharbats. The word comes from the Arabic “shariba”, which means “to drink”. Made from fresh fruits, herbs, flowers, essences and even sandalwood syrup, they were originally introduced to India by Mughal emperors in the 16th century. Ingredients are either blended together with ice and water, or made into cordials first, and then diluted.
Variations of sharbats include drinks based on souring agents like citrus fruits, mouth-puckering berries, tamarind or Indian gooseberries called “aamla“. A good introduction to Indian soft drinks is the refreshing lemonade known as “nimbu pani”. Made from freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice and flavoured with ginger, mint, saffron or kewra (screwpine) essence, it cuts through the richness of Diwali food.
The savoury version of nimbu pani is flecked with crushed black pepper; and a crowd-pleasing variation is “jal jeera”, a strong, spicy, tangy drink laced with cumin and black salt. Such savoury drinks wake up jaded palates and are believed to help digestion, so they’re normally drunk as aperitifs or digestives. They are however, an acquired taste.
More universally loved are milk drinks such as “badam” (almond) milk and “thandai”, which is imbued with nuts and spices. Due to the revered status of the cow in India, milk has long been considered special. Its mellow, soothing, creamy qualities are a perfect foil to deep-fried or spicy food. Londoner Asma Khan, host of the excellent supper club Darjeeling Express, who was raised in Calcutta and Hyderabad, reminisces: “The most festive drink in my family … was ‘dudh ka sharbat’. [It was] made with milk, which was infused with ground almonds, fennel seeds and saffron overnight, then sweetened with sugar and garnished with slivers of pistachios and almonds.” The sweet hit of this drink is also adored in my family, where it doubles up as a dessert for those wanting to avoid calorie-laden “mithai“.
Another iconic drink-dessert, also of Persian origin, is “falooda”, which is like a cross between sundae and bubble tea. Perfumed with rosewater or a rose syrup known as rooh afza, found in many Indian grocers, it’s further enhanced by the addition of chewy bits and pieces like vermicelli, basil seeds or tapioca, jelly pieces and kulfi. Available in many UK restaurants (though the quality is variable), it comes in various flavours and is a must-try.
Though less glamorous than milk drinks, yoghurt drinks like lassi are consumed by some communities on a daily basis. Sweet or fruity lassis are the ones favoured in the UK, but it’s the sharp, buttery, salted lassi seasoned with cumin seeds and curry leaves that’s the ideal accompaniment to festive main meals. So, whether it’s champagne or sharbat, what will you be drinking at Diwali?
via Life and style: Indian food and drink | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/nov/12/diwali-drinks-sharbat-to-champagne