Every fan of India will tell you that if you have not tried Indian street food, you missed half of impressions. Same goes for street drinks, which in India are varied and many. Some, like masala tea and fresh juices are well known, while other, like aloe vera juice remain largely unknown even to biggest lovers of India.
One of the most popular drinks not only in India but in many Asian countries, it is extracted when sugarcane is run through a hand cranked mill. Each year brings more modern mills, powered by electricity or gas, but mechanical still remains the most wide spread. Fresh juice is mixed with ice and usually a bit of lime juice. Despite its sweetness the drink is very refreshing. I was also excited to recently learn about many health benefits of fresh sugarcane juice - just another reason to love it!
Aloe vera with fermented milk
I saw this drink in Chennai couple of weeks ago for the first time. It should be pretty rare since I have previously been to India more than ten times and unfortunately never came across it. So if you see it, grab it - it is worth a try. The drink is made when mashed aloe vera pulp is mixed with cold fermented milk. It tastes sour, creamy, a bit bitter, and has that fresh aftertaste of green. In short, I would not drink it like water. But aloe vera and fermented milk are known for their health benefits, plus the taste is definitely too interesting to miss.
Finding real masala tea in India becomes more of a challenge every year. I remember when a sure place to drink a good one was in Indian trains and railway stations. Tea there was served by men with large metal pots, smelling of cardamom, ginger, cloves and tasting a perfect balance of strong black tea, creamy cow milk and sugar. But tea men were replaced by uniformed railway caterers and delicious drink was replaced with a tea bag and milk powder. Thank god for street tea men who are still there.
Not the most popular drink in India, it is primarily made in southern part of the country. So if you see a stall of aromatic melons and a blender - grab the opportunity. Usually fresh melon pulp and ice is mixed with a lot of sugar - we all know that is the way Indians love it. But a vendor will gladly pour his drink to the pot, and make you a sugar free one, if you ask. The aroma and taste of melon smoothie is extraordinary!
India is a country of amazing milk products. Even though my Ukrainian grandmother had a cow and I was raised on a real cow milk, I assure you - the best milk products are in India. And lassi is probably the most favourite one, especially in northern and central parts of the country. Usually it is made when a very rich yogurt is mixed with some salt, or sugar. But in tourist areas they also make lassi with banana, mango and other fruits. Traditional way of serving lassi is in a disposable clay cup which you can throw away after use. The key is in unfired clay that goes back to being a lump of clay after any contact with water, like a rain.
Which street drinks have you tried in India?
Svitlana Tuchynska is an editor and a tour leader working with I love Asia.