Friday, May 11, 2007

Keeping Cool in Summer!

When I came to this country, a classmate asked me where I was from. I answered, "India."

He said, "Cool!"

My response was, "Not really; it's pretty hot where I come from."

So, how did we keep our cool, especially in those summer months, when the temperature soared to 110° F. or more?

We did not rely on "Big Gulps." Mostly, we drank lots of water. The city was dotted with dozens of roadside pyaus, free, drinking water stations. Water was kept cool naturally in big, earthen pots made by local potters. The pyaus were operated by religious or civic organizations. We also had many water coolers.

When someone dropped in for whatever reason, we always offered them a glass of cold water. Hot tea or something cold would be next in line.

Homemade, cool drinks in a dozen different flavors (not all sweet) were the norm during the hot season. Because the heat made one sweat a lot, a bit of salt was also added to some cold drinks. A lightly-salted, thin buttermilk drink (flavored with cumin) was commonly served at community feasts or gatherings.

Lassi (similar to the Western smoothie) was probably the favorite drink for us kids. It could be made with the pulp of fresh, ripe mangos, bananas or other juicy, tropical fruits. If none was available, yogurt was used. The flavor was enhanced with sugar, salt, rose water or cardamom.

Another favorite, cool drink was fresh sugarcane juice. From March until August, there were scores of special corner stores set up in every city and town to serve sugarcane juice. They used hand-cranked or electric juicers (or, even cow-powered ones in rural areas) to squeeze the sugar cane right in front of you so you knew it was "fresh" and not watered down. We would also squeeze a bit of lemon and sprinkle a special spice mix to flavor the juice. Often, friends and family "went out" to drink this refreshing, healthy and inexpensive drink on summer evenings. The shops stayed open until 10 p.m., or even later.

In coastal areas, the most common cold drink is coconut milk. The seller skillfully uses a machete to cut open the end of a green coconut and inserts a straw in the hole. There you have it: a naturally bottled tasty drink! After sipping this fresh energy drink, you can ask the seller to scoop out the soft coconut meat from the inside of the shell for you to eat.

In our region of India, yet another common cold drink is panha. To make it, you boil a few green, raw mangos for a few minutes and let them cool off naturally for a while. Hand-squeeze the pulp out of the now soft mangos. Add cold water and a touch of salt and sugar (and ice cubes, if available) and mix thoroughly before serving. Besides mangos, tamarind, kauth (the sweet and sour fruit of the Bel tree) and several other tropical fruits were also used to concoct such a cold drink at home. No wonder we never missed any of the bottled soda pop that one can buy these days. Bottled soda or juices were exceptions then, but now they're being pushed in the market.

During my travels in Mexico and Central America, I came across similar drinks in their mercados (markets). Licuados (smoothies) made with available fruit — papaya, piña, mango, banana, fresas, and mamé, jugo de zanahoria, naranjas, or agua de sandía ó limón for example, offer a variety of refrescos for the thirsty.

And, what do we get in our supermarkets, vending machines and corner stores these days? Bottled cold drinks with artificial flavors, artificial colors (like Red #40, Blue #1), high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, sodium benzoate, glycerol ester of wood rosin, brominated vegetable oil, caffeine… Does that sound like a healthy, tasty treat? No wonder when I see the ingredient lists of soft drinks sold in the stores, I turn my nose. I worry about their impact on the health of people who buy these drinks often. If you are concerned about this, try to avoid foods or drinks with any artificial ingredients.

Thirsty? Plain water, freshly squeezed fruit juices — pineapples, oranges and apples, or fresh fruit are the best! No fresh fruit? Frozen fruit or berries are great in smoothies. Try preparing some of these cool concoctions with your siblings or parents. You might also have fun making your own recipes.

By Arun Také, Editor



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home