Summers in India can be quite a handful. The sweltering heat is a menace especially for those who venture out of their homes during the afternoons and mornings. There are various ways to beat the heat though very often they seem just not enough. Ultimately, what usually works instantly is a room with the AC at full blast; however, not everyone can afford this luxury. Even if they can, one cannot be in air conditioned surroundings for the entire day since it is both an unhealthy and impractical solution.
What does work though are some of the traditional and natural foods and drinks that cool our bodies. These are healthy options with no side effects what so ever. Also, most of these are absolutely affordable and very often the escape route for those toiling arduously in the sun. Imagine the street laborers, our auto and bus drivers or the shop sellers and hawkers. They bear the brunt of the heat the most since they are exposed to the sun directly with very minimum shade. For them too, the best way to cool off is by consuming some of the traditional drinks and foods that are not only made in homes, but also sold on streets for easy availability. In fact, these summer stalls are a lucrative business option because they not only make a decent profit, but also because they are saviors that provide relief when the sun is scorching in full radiance upon us.
Again, because this is India, each region has its own set of summer food stalls, yet there are some foods and drinks that are found everywhere.
Lime juice/water – These small wooden wheeled vans are very common sight on summer days. Loaded with lemons and a hidden ice box within the van that keeps the water cool the lime juice is a perfect cooling drink to keep up the energy amidst a blazing sun. For a nominal amount this lime juice can be filled in your own bottle which can last for a while.
Fruit bowls – Stalls selling cut fruits, including watermelons, papaya and cucumbers are a great way to fill your stomach with healthy yet light foods that provide the right proportion of water and nutrients. Sprinkled with a pinch of salt they act against the dehydration. Not to mention, a bowl of fruit salad made at home is always a good snack.
Buttermilk/more/Chaas – Called chaas in the north and more in south, buttermilk is the ultimate drink to wade off the burning heat sensation in our bodies. A spoonful of curd mixed with water is the basic tenant of how buttermilk is made, though different homes and regions add on to make different variations. Ginger, curry leaves, salt, jeera, pepper, mustard seeds, chilli, lemon and coriander leaves, either of these can be added and mixed to give a new flavor to the existing butter milk.
Aam panna – Summer is the season of mangoes and aam panna made from unripen mangoes is the soothing antidote to hot venom spewing in summers. Made from the pulp of the kacha aam or keri (mango), this drink mixed with sugar, jeera and a pinch of salt is also known for keeping the heat strokes away.
Regional sherbets – Different regions are home to summer fighting fruits or various ingredients which can be prepared into sherbets or local drinks. Some examples include bel (wooden apple), kokum, phalsa (black currant), jamun, variyali (fennel seeds) and sattu. Either the pulp is extracted from the fruits or boiled or in case of seeds, they are soaked overnight to use as the base of the syrup. Most of these also have various health benefits. For example, bel has medicinal properties that deal with respiratory issues, vertigo and cholesterol. The fruits can also be eaten raw or used in salads. Besides, sattu or roasted gram powder is an energy drink that has been brought to our cities by migrants from Bihar and UP.
Panakam – A south Indian specialty, this drink is made from jaggery mixed with water, ginger powder, salt and powdered cardamoms. A different version of it, is also used in many Gujarati homes and is called gol pani or water of jaggery. Here the jaggery is mixed with water and a bit of lime juice. This drink provides instant cooling and refreshment.
Of course, there are many more local foods and drinks that our grandmothers would know about best. Maybe, it is time to take a few tips from them and follow some age old simple recipes to beat the heat. At the same time, we are also blessed to have the ice creams, baraf golas, kulfis and milkshakes to cool us off.