If you've ever been to the south of India, the first thing that probably hit you, as you stepped off the plane is the intense heat and humidity, right? Kay described it as being 'slapped in the face with a hot wet towel' and I have to admit he's got it spot on. He also described some other unflattering elements of that experience, but I won't repeat them here... I don't want to stop you from experiencing India in all its glory.
Unlike popular expectations though, the whole of India is not uniformly hot. The North of India actually has seasons, and can get incredibly hot and cold. The climate in the South is more tropical, and the temperature usually fluctuates between a balmy 25 - 35 C, with intense monsoons between June and September. The rains are actually a blessing, as the heat would have been unbearable during this season otherwise. We like to joke that there are three seasons in the South, hot, hotter and hottest, and each vying to make you the most uncomfortable. A lot of people don't realise that its not the heat that gets you, though, its the humidity. That wet towel feeling, to be precise.
So the one thing you do need to do while visiting India is keep well hydrated throughout your journey. This can be a lot harder than we realise. Having grown up in the heat, as kids, we were kept well watered througout the year. Be it tender coconut water (one of the biggest coolers around!), fresh fruit juices, this nimbu pani and... erm... Pepsi, the one thing that was drummed into us pretty constantly was the need to keep drinking fluids constantly.
Which is why it was a tad embarrassing, I suppose, when I got my first ever sunstroke in Terrace, BC, Canada, as opposed to Mangalore, India :) But that's a story for another time.
So, that universal cooler, lemonade. Pretty much every country in the world has its own recipe for lemonade. Be it those tall, frosty glasses here in Canada, or the little kids selling it on suburban streets, its a ubiquitous drink that needs no introduction, or, even for that matter, a recipe. In India, lemonade is called 'nimbu pani' or 'lime water', and is sold on every street corner, usually with gigantic cubes of ice and a splash of soda. Sometimes, its is scented with the unique spiciness of ginger, and I must admit that this version is my personal favourite.
A significant portion of my university life was spent in the dhaba (street eatery) outside my hostel, drinking copious amounts of this sweet/ salty drink, in a futile attempt to battle the horrendous Delhi summer. I reminisce about my days at uni, in this post for Maamu's mango lassi, but lets say the honours were shared equally between his 'nimbu pani' and his lassi! To add an exotic, unusual touch, I rimmed the glasses with my homemade chaat masala and splashed in a few lemons and limes. I love this drink, and as summer approaches, I am looking forward to having loads of it on the deck, perhaps enlivened with a cheeky dash of gin, what say?
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 1 lime
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
½ cup sugar (or to taste)
Club soda or sparkling water
A generous pinch of salt
A teaspoon of chaat masala (try my homemade recipe)
A teaspoon of coarse rock salt or sea salt
Lemon or lime slices
Mint leaves (optional)
To make the ginger-lemon syrup, combine the lemon and lime juices with the ginger and sugar in a small pan.
Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for about 3 - 4 minutes.
Cool, then strain through a fine sieve or a muslin cloth, discarding any ginger solids. This syrup will keep for about two - four days in the refrigerator, and can also be frozen.
To serve, spread out the salt and chaat masala on a plate. Rim the glasses with a mixture of chaat masala and coarse sea salt.
Place 3-4 tablespoons of syrup in a tall glass. Top up with club soda.
Garnish with a lemon or lime slice, and mint leaves, if desired.