Summer temperatures are relentless in India. While the blazing sun does little to encourage one to set foot outside their homes, what comes as a respite, is the comfort of a cool drink. Across the country, there are drinks indigenous to each region: whether you’re drinking chilled glasses of aam panna or nimbu soda, chaas or lassi, the choices are as diverse as the country’s topography. This list of some common and some not so well-known drinks is a handy guide of what to look forward to when travelling in India during summer.
A millet-based beer, chhaang is brewed and consumed in Nepal, Ladakh; as well as around Sikkim, where it’s called tongba. The almost-neutral, yet subtly acidic and sapid taste feels extremely hydrating going down. One of the best aspects of this mildly alcoholic beverage is the unique way it is served, in a bamboo stem mug called a dhungro or tongba. Boiling water is poured over the fermented millet seeds, and when the mixture cools down, you can sip it through a bamboo straw called a pipsing. Variations on chhaang include drinks made from rice or barley. In winter, it can be consumed warm.
The blend of over 25 flavourful herbs makes this fermented rice drink a harmony of soothing flavours. A tribal drink from the villages of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Bihar, the brew helps beat the heat when the temperature touches the cruel 40 degree mark. A ball of herbs and roots mixed with rice powder, called ranu, is used as a starter to ferment handia. With a moderate alcohol percentage, this is a fitting summer coolant.
Pink, piquant and blissful, this Malvani favourite is a concoction of stimulating flavours, including kokum (a plum-like fruit belonging to the mangosteen family), toned down with a light coconut base. The traditional Konkani appetiser is often consumed between meals as an excellent palate cleanser that has its own impressively zesty kick. The naturally cooling ingredients of kokum extract and coconut milk are seasoned with dashes of garlic and salt and garnished with coriander leaves. Ideally the briny summer freshener should have the right balance between cream and water.
If creaminess is not your thing, there are lighter kokum drinks from Maharashtra and Goa. Kokum, also called aam sol, acts as a pleasantly souring agent. The tart fruit is often made into a pulp and mixed with water for a refreshing kokum sherbet.
A variation of the more commonly known aam panna, aam porar shorbot is a summer staple for Bengalis. The twist in this drink made of unripe mangos is surprisingly simple: charred and smoked mango pulp. The green mangoes are grilled on a tawa, after which the smoke-infused, tart pulp is flavoured with pinches of salt and sugar and served chilled. The unique smoky tang is mouth-watering.
A rendition of nimbu pani or lemonade, shikhanji is a tantalising cooler from North India, especially popular in Punjab, made with soda or water. The use of ingredients like lime, salt, sugar and mint leaves make this an extremely revitalising pick-me-up on the hottest of days.
Literally “milk puff”, this dulcified Parsi delicacy combines the lushness of frothed milk with the aromatic whiff of nutmeg and vanilla. Although this gustatory delight is traditionally served hot during winter, a popular iced variation is available in several Mumbai cafés to be relished during summer.
Similar to the yoghurt-based lassi, this Gujarati and Maharashtrian nectar will beyond satisfy a sweet-tooth. Its thick, creamy smoothness comes from the generous use of shrikhand (sweetened hung curd) and buttermilk or milk. The drink is refined with ingredients like nutmeg, chopped pistachios, cardamom and bright red saffron.
A sweet, translucent drink, neera is extracted from the flowers of various toddy palm trees. With a sugary after-taste, this summer special from southern India is obtained from coconut, sago and Palmyra and is unfermented or mildly fermented form of toddy. When treated to prevent fermentation, this oyster-white beverage is sold in tetra-packs and glass bottles.
Shyamosree Dasgupta travels for the love of art, music and exciting new forms of story-telling. With an ever-increasing bucket list, she dreams of a life of art and reading in Norway someday. She is an editorial intern in National Geographic Traveller India.