Lassi, Anyone?

In India, people are crazy about lassis- a cool, refreshingh drink made from curd and flavored with any sweet, fruity taste you can imagine. These tasty drinks are usually topped with chopped marachino cherries, chashews, and fresh shredded coconut.

The place to find a lassi is the lassi stand, which is anything from a solid, open-air brick building to a plywood or sheet metal sided make-shift establishment or simply a tent-like structure with a bamboo pole frame. The latter style comes wrapped like a grand present with bright, silky siding with beach scene print. Whichever the building, the lassi stand follows a general code of decor: the sign outside must be as bright, flashy and flourescent as possible to insipre a craving for the sweet drink- the flasiness is definitely the perfect visual equivalent of the lassi’s sweetness. The innerspace must be large enough to b e able to line colorful plastic chairs up against the walls so that all customers are facing eachother when enjoying their lassi (the must be sipped inside, sitting down, and never have one in a rush- it’s not possible to have one to go!). If there’s not enough space inside the establishment for chairs, then they will be lined up in two parallel rows facing eachother immediately in front of the stand, like a runway for incoming customers.

The lassis themselves are made on an island located somewhere inside the stand, but in plain view of the street or thouroughfare on which teh stand lays. The island is equipped with a counter for chopping cherries, chashews and grating coconut, a fridge for the curd and other drinks, and a blender, which is used to whip up the sweet, milkshake-like lassi. The production counter is usually surrounded by bottles of ‘cold drinks’, which in India refers to soda pop, or boxed jucies of various types. They are stacked into nice pyramids that give the atmosphere that geometric appleal as well as a thirst-exciting mosaic of different-colored drinks (from cola-bown and mango-orange to seven-up-green).

Thi final touch is made by hanging at least two dozen garlanded marigolds over the threshold of the entrance, adding extra aromatic fragrance to complement the colorful atmosphere.

When I first saw lassi stands in Balasore, I was actually frightened by their imposing look so vulnerably teetering on the edge of the soiled car, rickshaw, motorbike and cow laden street. How this could be appealing to the senses and calming to the spirit, I could not tell, and I made a quite resolution to never set foot in one!! However, when Romy and I took a chance one day to try a lassi, we were pleasantly surprised! Lassis, despite being a dairy drink, and very refreshing and they don’t leave you with the sticky-sweet mouth that eating ice cream or drinking a milk shake gives you. Shile we sat and waited for out lassis, we relaxed in our plastic chairs facing other waiting customers and listened to a melodic Hindi love song filled with deep drum beats and the shrill cries of an Indian woman singer.

Now as for the flavors, I am not an expert, as I’ve only had two lassis total in India. I onl know that they are always sweet, whether mango, papaya, or simply sugar tasting. Apart from flavors, other additives–and this is where it gets really interesting–can be put in your lassi drink. One such additive that Romy and I chose on that fateful April Indian evening was ‘bhang’. While the word resembles more the sound a gun makes, it actually refers to a thin dark green paste that is a derivative of marijuana! What’s more is that is is totally legal in India and is considered a healthful alternative to alcohol- Amen! Bhang lassis are even the official drink of the springtime festival of Holi!

As you can imagine, Romy and I were feeling a little bit unsure whether our order was morally, ethically, or for that matter legally acceptable or not. But, without more than a smile and an Indian-style sideways head wiggle, the lassi man whipped up and delivered us our greenish, earthy-sweet tasting Bhang lassi without a fuss or an attempt to conceal the transaction. We drank up freely and happily, and when we were fisished, we walked back home with clean consciences and without shackles on our ankles. Indian society provided us with this ‘healthy alternative to alcohol’ and we enjoyed it with the same blissful delight and belly-laughing goodness that are considered the ills of the hash and grass smokers. I guess this just goes to show that you can dress anything up with sugar and curd and the illegal can become legal, the ugly the beautiful, and the loathed the loved!

One Response to “Lassi, Anyone?”

  1. Mark Lamadrid Says:

    Unca Z and I sometimes order a mango lassi at a Pakistani restaurant that we have been wont to frequent in the past. Delicious; the perfect drink for dessert to clean the palate of the spiciness of curries, ghosts, tandoori, daal, etc.

    Mando: I know you were “waxing poetic” about your lassi experience, but all of the marigolds I know of stink. In India, they don’t stink?! The bhang lassi sounds like the taste is an “acquired one;” the buzz, a most pleasant thing. You three never got sick from eating/drinking things from the street vendors? Your great-aunt Priscilla and Marissa went to India back in the 80s, I think. Marissa was sick the whole time.

    When in Malaysia in 1996, Zane and I ate at all of the popular restaurants, foods from carts on the streets, etc., and never became ill. However, the last night of our trip he took me to a fancy restaurant with folkdancers and music. There were endless buffets of Malaysian delicacies. But something I ate gave me “traveler’s diarrhea” that ruined the flight back home to LA. Every 45 mins. to an hour, I had to go to the bathroom. I had the runs for 3 weeks!

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