Tuesday, July 3, 2012

food trail :Jigar Thanda


jigar thanda
I had heard of the term Brain freeze or ‘ice cream headache’ (scientific name- sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ),the weird sensation when you eat ice cream too fast and are struck with a numbing pain around the forehead. Well seems ice creams can do more than just freeze your brain , it can also cool your heart !! That is what the popular and indigenious drink of Madurai the JIGAR THANDA proclaims.
I much prefer the cooling of the heart, and thus went on a foodie trail in Madurai. Madurai is the birth place of the Jigar thanda . An ice cream sundae made of cold milk, flavor of ice cream, indigeneous china grass called kadal paasi and the juice of a medicinal root called sarsaparilla syrup or nannari syrup.The original recipe was brought to Madurai by an ethnic group called the saurashtra and was much popular amongst the Muslims. It is still particularly favoured after a heavy meal of biryani for its digestive properties, also during Ramzan month it sells like hot cakes. Actually hot cakes might notsell as much as the Jigar Thanda. The drink might have been brought to Madurai due to the muslim invasion but the round the year summer in Madurai (Madurai is 9.58N latitude, barely above the equator)has made Jigar thanda an irreplaceable and intrinsic part of the culture of the place.
Even though jigar thanda has an illustrious past , and is still served in its original form across the city of Madurai, it is still open to individual interpretations. New and innovative flavours crop up especially during the blistering months of heat.

 Now I have been in Madurai for long enough to have had my share of interpretations of the famed Jigar Thanda, I had had enough bad interpretations of the heart cooling drink to leave me cold hearted. The hospital canteen or the hostel mess are not the versions of jigar thanda I would recommend. One of the versions I had actually had cold stodgy sabudana (sago ), cold milk, vanilla ice cream and strawberry jam.I know substitution is the mother of most Indian inventions, but Jam and over cooked sabudana is no way to treat a historical drink!!
So this week part of my foodie trail I decided to venture into the heartland of the temple city.
I finally tasted my authentic jigar thanda, and I came back pleased.
 It had home made ice cream, the kind made by churning thickened milk for hours. It tasted much like kulfi ice-cream. It had thickened milk, the kind boiled for hours on slow flame, until it turns from white to brown. The original kadal paasi, which was a stiff jelly like consistency , cut in very small pieces. And a pink coloured fluid, which I was informed is trhe famed Nannaari syrup. The vendor dexterously layered the ingredients one on top of the other in a tall glass, gave the whole thing a brisk shake and served it up with little fan fare. He then proceeded to shake and stir many more of the same, and I realized the immense popularity of the drink.
home made icecream

thickened milk,kadal paasi, and nannaari syrup

at work

It tasted a lot like a cross between kulfi and falooda. I guess the falooda must have been the origin of the original jigar thanda. After all the falooda is a Persian drink traditionally  made by mixing rose syrup with vermicelli,  basil(sabza/takmaria) seeds, jelly pieces and tapioca pearls  along with either milk and ice cream.
The jigar thanda is an inexpensive way to cool down, it also is a fitting example of Indian ethos. We learn from the outside world, we adapt it to our tastes, we will always have some medicinal quality to our food items. Jigar thanda is not just icecream , mixed with cold milk and jelly; It is a drink which helps in digestion, cools the mind and heart, helps in constipation, is an integral part of the local culture, and has deep rooted sense of tradition.