Indian cuisine is popular for its curries and spices, but very little credit is given to the wide varieties of beverages that the country has to offer. There’s hundreds of Indian drinks and beverages beyond a hot cup of masala chai or a chilled mango lassi. Some of them may be popular in a particular region, while others are a national superstar.
It’s no secret that India has one of the longest and hottest summers in the world, so the country is bound to have some of the best cold and refreshing beverages.
A tangy and lightly spiced drink made with raw mangoes. Ambiya, or raw mango, is believed to fight heat, so this drink becomes a staple in North Indian homes during summer. Raw mango is boiled in water, and the cooked pulp is diluted in water with rock salt, mint, sugar and spices.
Another popular drink during summer. Buttermilk is spiced with cumin, pepper and sometimes ginger and salt. Light, refreshing and a good digestion aid, this drink is usually served at the end of a meal.
A simple limeade with salt and mint.
Very popular in India, jal jeera is basically cumin water. It is believed to fight the heat and aids in good digestion. One thing that best indicates that summer has arrived are the jal jeera stalls on the streets.
Brought to India by the Mughals, sharbat, an urdu word, is basically a sweet beverage made mainly with a fruit or flower nectar. There’s a wide range of flavors available such as rose, mango, khas, lemon, and orange, with herbs sometimes added to the drink. Sharbat not only tastes good, but has ayurvedic properties, too.
The clear liquid inside of fresh coconut is another popular Indian thirst quencher, gaining popularity stateside as well.
In ancient India, the use of alcohol was mainly limited to the Maharajas (the royal family) or to the lower sector of the society (the labor class) for recreation. Alcohol has always been a taboo amongst the Indian middle class, but this does not prevent us from enjoying a glass of toddy or bhang! Some traditional Indian alcoholic beverages include the following:
One of the most common and popular intoxicants in India, bhang is extracted from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Hindu mythology names bhang as a favorite of Lord Shiva; thus, it is often part of religious offerings and popularly enjoyed during Hindu festivals like Holi and Mahashivratri.
Toddy is made from the sap of un-opened palm tree flowers. Once the sap is collected, it is fermented naturally, until it attains about 15% alcohol. Neera and Kallu are fermented for shorter times and hence have lesser alcohol content. Toddy is also used in cooking to hasten the fermentation process.
Hailing from the state of Goa, fenny is made either with the sap of coconut or cashew apple. Popularly known as “country liquor,” Goa has the sole rights to produce and sell fenny, making it more exclusive and highly sought after.
Other popular traditional Indian alcohols are Hadia, an Indian beer made with rice, Mahua, made with mahua flower, and Chhaang, a beer made with barley, millet or rice, popular in Tibet and the Himalayan region. When the British came to India, they brought with them several varieties of beer — one of them most popularly known today as the Indian Pale Ale, or IPA.
Putting a pot of hot chai on the stove every morning is a daily ritual to every Indian family. I wrote a whole article on the importance of chai in our lives, in case you missed it. That explains it all!
Originating from the south, this sweet milky preparation is the most popular way to drink coffee in India. After being brewed and passed through a filter, coffee is poured back and forth between two tumblers making it frothy and light.
Originally from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, lassi is one of the most popular Indian beverages all across the world. Made by diluting yogurt, this rich sweet drink can be served in several flavors, from fruits like mango, strawberry, banana to some popular nuts like pistachio, almond and many times, saffron.
Editor’s Note: Have you tried any of these drinks? What were your impressions? Did we miss any?
Prerna is a food photographer and the blogger behind Indian Simmer. She spent most of her childhood in a few small towns in central India, a time she fondly remembers for rotis straight off the clay oven and her mom’s cooking with produce plucked right from the farms. She earned her MBA in India and worked in the advertising industry for a few years. Then she met a guy, married him, and moved to the US. When Prerna’s not running after her daughter, you’ll find her cooking in the tiny kitchen of her small apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Three things made me this awesome cook that I am today,” she says, sarcastically, “circumstances, no help and hunger! Whatever I do in the kitchen today is because of the two moms in my life: my mom and my husband’s mom.” Prerna loves traveling and exploring new cuisines, then testing them in her kitchen before sharing them with the world. These days she’s having fun combining two of her biggest passions—food and photography—on Indian Simmer. Check out Indian Simmer on Facebook!