Thandai means “that which cools” in Hindi and is a cold milk based drink made with sugar, almonds and spices. The spice mix used in thandai can vary quite a bit from one recipe to another, but mostly contain saffron, cardamom, fennel seeds, black and/ or white pepper and melon seeds (sometimes a mix of 4 different melon seeds called charmagaz). Some recipes also call for fresh or dried rose petals, of the variety used to make gulkand.
This drink, popular in the northern part of India but virtually unknown in the south, is a great summer cooler and served as an offering to Lord Shiva during Shivarathri and during the colourful festival of Holi. The holy Indian city of Benaras/ Varanasi is supposedly the most famous for its thandai.
Holi is a North Indian festival and we don;t celebrate it being South Indians. We have however, lived throughout most of our lives in places where Holi is celebrated and have invariably been drawn into the celebrations. While I am comfortable with the traditional type of Holi celebrations where neighbours and well-wishers turn up with colours and sweets and just lightly smear the colours on your cheeks or arms, the unihibited kind of colourful celebrations with being doused with coloured water and powders makes me uncomfortable.
Our daughter used to spend the first few years of her life hiding under her bed on Holi, totally scared of colour bearing friends who would knock on our door. That was only until she was old enough to join her large group of friends having fun all Holi morning coming home at lunch time stained with the colours of the rainbow!
Holi is not yet here and it may seem a little odd to many of you, who are probably still enjoying (or not!) the last bit of winter that I am making and serving a summer cooler right now. While it is not officially summer here, our days have already started getting quite warm and a cool drink is always welcome and this particular one is absolutely delicious as well.
The day time temperature touched an unusual high of 36 C on last Sunday, so you know what I’m talking about.
And as far as I’m concerned one doesn’t need to wait for Holi to drink Thandai. Try this as a warm drink during cold days, and you will find it very refreshing, somehwat reminiscent of a spicy hot Posset or a Hot Toddy. This recipe is adapted from Tarla Dalal.