Why I love India # 4 - The Indian Lassi

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April 11th 2010
Published: April 11th 2010
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My Varanasis Lassi wallaMy Varanasis Lassi wallaMy Varanasis Lassi walla

Get's my top marks. See text for full brief!

Ah - is there anything more sublime than a really good lassi taken on a hot day in India? Yes of course this is a rhetorical question for those seasoned Indiaphiles out there.

For those completely out of the ‘know’ - what is a lassi?

Here is one definition lifted off the web:
n., pl., las•sis.
A beverage made of yogurt and water and flavored with spices, fruit, or other ingredients.

Lassis can be taken sweet or salty - but let’s cut to the chase here and just talk sweet OK? Because ‘that’s what I’m talkin’ about!’ AND I am NOT talkin’ about the tourist wanker fruit flavoured lassi (sorry, even though these can be splendid indeed - a fruit smoothie really) - I am talkin’ about traditional plain (allowing for all the acceptable and quality enhancing ingredients described below) lassi.

In my experience - a true lassi walla (a guy who specializes in making lassis - and hey - you can forget ordering lassis in restaurants OK? You need to find the specialist shops that ONLY do lassis!) - makes it a personal art form and
Pappu's Lassi Shop RISHIKESHPappu's Lassi Shop RISHIKESHPappu's Lassi Shop RISHIKESH

Nice little specialist shop with reputation far and wide
life quest to devise his (sorry - it seems to be always a bloke) own particular combo and recipe and choice of additives for his own “s-special” lassi.

And so - the seasoned Indian traveler tends to learn of and experience and ‘assume membership’ of his or her special lassi joint where he/she will tend to go again and again on one visit to that place and/or return again and again when passing through that same place in future. It can become a yearning to return to a place because of the memory of that particular lassi shop. Indeed (and my friend Toko will attest to this) it can become a bloody obsession!

OK - I have to say that my 9.8 out of 10 top prize goes to my lassi walla in Varanasi. This young guy (and apologies - your name escapes me right now) is a master - and at such a young age too. Of course in Varanasi the EXTRA appeal of the really good lassi is that it is served in clay cups which (unfired) are then just chucked on the ground and return to mother earth with no-one adversely affected (pity about the
Where are you Toko?Where are you Toko?Where are you Toko?

It's a bit sad finding an old soak drinking alone no? Inside Pappu's lassi shop in Rishikesh.
modern India where plastic has replaced the clay cups for all manner of things - in particular how chai is served on trains for example - oh I miss that slight clay taste in the chai!). Here the lassi is of course icey chilled (that is a must) - is made with rose water added (of course) - and has a smidgen of ‘rubberi’ (sp??) which is a kind of carnation milk taste substance left after milk in large woks is boiled and boiled away (evaporated) with lots of sugar added; plus a smidgen of the top creamy skin layer of ‘milai’ (sp??) the yogurt pan. Note that really good yogurt (and here it is so in the Varanasi shop) is made at the shop in large clay (again unfired and disposable) pans. Then a smattering of chopped pistachios and cashew nuts are added. Price is just 5 rupees!! And for that you feel like you just had lunch!

Now second prize has to go to Pappu’s lassi in Rishikesh. These lassis are also to die for - but lack the clay pot is all! Mind you - the Varanasi prize winner has much better delectables added on top
Bhubaneswar Lassi Stall Bhubaneswar Lassi Stall Bhubaneswar Lassi Stall

Making the Bhuba lassi in my preferred local - down the road in Sailashree Vihar. Nice one!
that does Pappu. The shop itself as you can see is a classic. Very clean and tiled throughout. Price is 15 to 20 rupees. A veritable favourite of Toko’s (but girl I tell ya - ya gotta come to Varanasi with me one day!).

I’d give my third prize to the Ajmer (Rajasthan) lassi - again clay pots and very very good. I think about 15 rupees from memory. My friend Satya Naryan from Pushkar was good enough to introduce me to this one (no pic though sorry).

Now I’d consider including the corner lassi at Pahar Ganj in Delhi - but I have to say (although I have had many a good lassi there) : “guys, you need to do something about your health and hygiene standards - it’s just not a good look when the back of your shop looks like a dump; when the smell of open drains are often about; and one just wonders about that water and the flies etc…” But great effort none the less for this excellent 12 rupee lassi.

But it needs to be said too that in South India the place is crawling with good lassis AND in Orissa (Bhubaneswar where I am living) there are also a great array of lassi stalls on every other block. Some of the latter tend to be a bit tart in taste for me - as if the curd is on the turn - or add a rather sickly form of rubberi (if that’s what it is??) . But there are some where they have it just to my taste (pic included where the addition of freshly grated coconut is particularly nice - not so sure about the malt powder though - but the addition of the sultanas and glaced cherries are also a nice variation. Well done Bhuba!

Please note: the actual locations of MY favourite shops in Varanasi and Rishikesh might be explained by me to you on application to the author. The one in Ajmer I am not sure I can remember but general vicinity I know.

I’ll leave you with a simple recipe for ‘trying at home’ - but a warning should accompany this: “Do not try this at home!! You need to get yourself to India and try in ‘in situ’ made for you at a reputable lassi stall” !!

• 3 cups plain yogurt
• 3 to 4 ice cubes
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ cup water
• Rose water to taste
• Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
• Pour into individual glasses.
Serves 3 or 4.

Enjoy but remember - it will NEVER taste the same when not in India!


11th April 2010

I'm drooling Paul - have tried lassi here and they were delicious, but I'm sure, after reading your descriptions, the best are yet to come................I'm off to find the lassi 'specialist'. Hugs from Kathmandu, Marguerite
13th April 2010

lassi or chai?
Only one lassi stall in Rayagada, they also do nice fruit juice - the last made with fresh pineapple - lovely - trouble is its a 40 Rupee auto ride away into the town centre, so it becomes a once a week treat, I'm a chai fan myself, and having acquired the American taste for iced tea that's the way I've been keeping cool here in these 45C temperatures.
2nd May 2010

grand homage, my friend..... left me in a daze of the lost days of lassiness. hope all's well with you x

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