Summers are the season of chilled local coolers. Who can miss the rose and pista flavour of the thandai, the tangy green mango masala of the aam panna, the sweet and colourful ice crystals of the chuski, and the zing of the lemonade soda of the banta?
I have my own favourite drink rooted back in the 1990s when I was 9 years old in the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Among our many walking routes, my father and I especially enjoyed a circuit owing to its varied landscapes including emporiums of wood and brass handicrafts, golden-yellow sandstone of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, flocks of peafowls roaming freely on the flattened boulders of the Chittar Hill, and the hustle-bustle of a local market.
The busy local market had a special place in my heart. As I began to sense its dust and noise, I waited to hear the kad-kad ting-ting tang-tang sound of a machine that was music to my ears, like tiny cow bells ringing together. It meant that the machine was in action, extracting the most refreshing summer drink, sugarcane juice.
Even as sweat drops trickled down my head travelling right to the end of my spine, I intently watched the process of preparing sugarcane juice. The rattling sound of the traditional manually-operated machine, generous girth of the sugarcane sticks piled up next to it, the large iron wheel painted in green and orange rotating at a swift speed, the resolute expression on the face of the man operating the machine as he firmly held the handle attached to wheel rotating it in circular motions while pushing a bunch of cane sticks between the rollers. I was fascinated by his determination to extract every ounce of juice from the sticks that he kept putting back into the rollers to crush them, just once more, until they were stone dry! The whole process was quite theatrical.
Once satisfied with the grind, he’d pull out the metal container placed below the front end of machine to collect the extracted juice. Filled to the brim, this brown-deep green liquid with a thick layer of froth on top looked utterly inviting. The froth indicates that the juice is absolutely fresh. Next he lined up upturned glasses, quite large in size, to pour the juice through a sieve. But just before he could do that, my father always made sure that hygiene wasn’t compromised. So he asked for water and washed a glass himself. He also squeezed an extra slice of lemon into my glass. Well, a chunk of lemon and a hint of ginger in sugarcane juice can be a game changer.
When I finally held the glass of that deliciously hydrating drink, quite a mouthful for a lanky young girl as me then, I knew I was in for a treat. The moment the first sip of the juice met my tongue, my taste buds exploded! Every single time. I even remember holding each sip in my mouth for a few seconds before gulping it down, just to savour the juice tad bit longer. Finished to the last drop, I was fully charged for another hour of walk and hike.
Sugarcane juice is our very own, natural, nutritious, and affordable common man’s ‘Red Bull.’ Rich in minerals and antioxidants, plant-based and flavoursome, great for our digestive system and high on instant energy, it beats any other manufactured energy drink in the market.
As the temperature rises, welcome the goodness of this humble summer drink with open arms. And don’t forget to add a dash of lime to it!
This article was published at Hindustan Times.