Hot Days in Old Delhi Call for Cool Drinks | Culinary Backstreets
Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Join our upcoming

Food Tours!

Unseasonably cooler weather and rains plagued most of North India these past weeks, damaging crops and further exacerbating an untenable situation for farmers. In Delhi, though, everyone guiltily enjoyed the slower onslaught of hot weather, until this week. The heat has enveloped everything. And refreshing drinks, made from short- and long-lived seasonal fruits, have arrived on the streets.

What is in season and on the streets of Old Delhi these days? There are individual squeezed juices that are poured through a sieve of mosambi (Citrus limetta, also called sweet lime), watermelon, pineapple or mango. Each seller flavors his fresh juices according to his strict ideas of what should or should not go in the juice. Sometimes he sprinkles it with a twist of nimbu (lime) to cut the sweetness and add tang; other times he may add a bit of sulfurous black salt, and/or a pinch of his favorite masala mix.

Surender Singh sells bael (wood apple, Aegle marmelos) in Old Delhi, not far from Turkman Gate on Chittli Qabar Road. Meanwhile, Ravindra Chawan makes and sells bael sherbet. He methodically cracks the fruit open, scoops out the pulp and seeds, mixes it with water, then either pours it through a sieve or leaves it pulpy and adds sugar and ice. There it sits in a large metal cylinder, covered with a red wet cloth to keep it cool.

Chawan, 40 years old and not married, came to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh 25 years ago from a family of builders. Some of them work as migrant builders in the Emirates, but he remained in India to sell seasonal fruits and nuts throughout the year on Lal Kuan Bazar Road and at a location close to the Chawri Metro. Once the bael season ends, he switches to jamun (Syzygium cumini) fruit, followed by bhutta (corn). This takes him through to September. Then, as the cooler months descend, Chawan sources and sells roasted moong phali, peanuts, from October to after Holi in February. Come March he vends angur, grapes. Then he returns to selling bael sherbet. His customers crave these cyclic offerings, which are still connected to seasons, still rooted in locale and place. He provides a type of anchor. And his customers drink with great intention, as if they are not only cooling the body, but also nourishing it to protect it from all the intensity the heat can bring.

Phalsa (Grewia asiatica) berries come from dry Gujarat and are sour and sweet, with a relatively large seed. They have a deep eggplant color that relieves stomach heat and upset. The elderly vendor, located on Chittli Qabar Road, suggests preparing the sherbet by “gently washing the berries to avoid bruising and puncturing. Add water and mash it, then strain it over ice and add sugar, plenty of sugar, because we are still early in the season, so they are still sour.” A short-lived and beloved fruit, phalsa are sold in 50- to 100-gram amounts. One customer smiled at the sighting of phalsa on the streets. She glowed with a memory of childhood spring delights.

Phalsa berries are used to make sherbet, photo by Sarah KhanBut when heat gets inside the body, and there is no relief from the sweat pouring off, that’s when we yearn for shikanji or jaljeera. Shikanji is laden with sweetened frothy crushed ice, lemon juice, black salt and spices. The drink quenches and provides lip-smacking rehydration. So glad for the relief, we greedily draw it down, just to make the joyous empty-glass-with-straw sucking sound. Azad Ijaz Ahmad’s moveable shikanji cart with a requisite umbrella sits on Lal Kuan Road, just north of the Chawri Metro Stop.

Right next to him is the jaljeera vendor. Jaljeera is yet another type of lemon drink that is sweet and salty but also infused with plenty of bright green mint and roasted ground cumin seeds. Each and every element in each drink provides some type of respite from heat, in addition to hydration. So rest assured that there are plenty of choices – and informed street vendors – to provide all the elements to stave off heat, cool the body and protect it from the ravages of the hot and humid Delhi spring and summer.

(photos by Sarah Khan)

  • Meet the VendorsApril 24, 2019 Meet the Vendors (0)
    Nine Inch Nails. Metallica. Tool. Rage Against the Machine. The driving beats, shredding […] Posted in Mexico City
  • Cold ComfortMarch 2, 2019 Cold Comfort (0)
    Three humble ingredients – potato, cabbage and bacon – that’s all it takes to cook […] Posted in Barcelona
  • Spring Gone WildApril 10, 2018 Spring Gone Wild (0)
    One of the great joys of spring in Japan is anticipating the appearance of sansai, or […] Posted in Tokyo

Related stories

Learn more about Mexico City’s markets on our walk!
April 24, 2019

Meet the Vendors: The Heavy Metal Florist of Coyoacán Market Tells All

Mexico City | By Megan Frye
By Megan Frye
Mexico CityNine Inch Nails. Metallica. Tool. Rage Against the Machine. The driving beats, shredding guitar solos and iconic howls are attention grabbing to say the least as you meander through the colorful labyrinth that is Mercado de Coyoacán. From its famous tostadas and comida corridas to spiritual cleansings using Santa Muerte magic and all things Frida…
March 2, 2019

Cold Comfort: Trinxat, Catalonia’s Winter Trinity

Barcelona | By Mireia Font
By Mireia Font
BarcelonaThree humble ingredients – potato, cabbage and bacon – that’s all it takes to cook trinxat, the quintessential Catalan wintertime comfort dish. Potatoes and cabbage are boiled and mixed with fried bacon, and everything is cooked as a mash in a pan until it resembles a potato omelet. Its simple ingredients and even simpler preparation…
April 10, 2018

Spring Gone Wild: Tokyo Sansai

Tokyo | By Fran Kuzui
By Fran Kuzui
TokyoOne of the great joys of spring in Japan is anticipating the appearance of sansai, or mountain vegetables. When cherry blossoms begin to flutter on warming breezes, hikers take to the hills to forage for the first wild edibles. Supermarkets mount special displays of packaged (and unfortunately often hot-house-raised) young sprouted leaves, shoots and tubers.…
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro