Lassi drink is the word that excites every Indian. Having a glass of Perfect Lassi itself can be the most satisfying thing on a hot sunny day. But, I never had to check on the weather before slurping on a cup.
The simplest form of Lassi to me is to fill a tumbler full of curd, give it a beat, add sugar, mix it well, gulp it down and wipe the moustache. Finding a cup of leftover curd at home was enough an excuse to have Lassi.
Have you seen how most of the south Indian meals end?
We always keep the cup of curd to have at the end, and the very understanding waiter comes around with a spoon and sugar. Add a spoonful of sugar to the curd, and there, the meal ends with a dessert. My mom and I are born with a sweet tooth, and we have always enjoyed our cup of sugar. One of my comfort foods is Lassi.
My first encounter with having the huge tumbler full of Lassi was when I was new to Bangalore and ordered one at Oye Amritsar restaurant.
You have seen how tall those glasses can get.
The huge glass had Lassi that I had never tasted before. My curd and sugar variation got upgraded to one with Kesar flavour and almond flakes added on top! I could not finish that glass. Until that day, I had no idea of Kesar lassi, mango lassi, and I could not even accept the concept of salted and masala Lassi. I mean, it is supposed to be sweet; how can you add salt and masala to it?
I could not take this variation. But mango and Kesar lassi soon became my favourite. If it was a Punjabi restaurant, it was always Lassi over jaljeera or tandai.
The Beginning Of My Love For Lassi
One day I was watching a famous programme on TV where they showed a kesar lassiwala in Chennai. Anmol Kesar Patiala lassi in mint street Sowcarpet is known to many in Chennai, but that was the first time I saw it on TV.
As the anchor was interviewing the lassiwala, he was churning the Lassi, poured it into a tumbler, swirled the tumbler and to my surprise, added a dollop of butter!! Butter in Lassi?! Why?
But the anchor seemed to enjoy it the most, and the foodie in me wanted to try it so badly… Only then did I look up online, and people were raving about it as the thickest Lassi they have had and can never finish a glass. I looked at the map, and it was a bloody 30km away from my home, so I chucked the idea.
While days passed, dreaming about the chilled Patiala lassi that I saw, one day, my friend offered to take me there. Delighted, we walked through the narrow lanes of Sowcarpet and there the shop was, with many paper clippings around him boasting off as the best Lassi.
A group of 6 girls got one tumbler and shared it among them. Not sure if I will be able to finish the glass, I asked for half a glass.
The Lassi was poured into the tumbler, gave it a swirl, added a dollop of butter and handed it over to me. Like I have got the nectar that I have been waiting for, I beamed with the tumbler in my hand. And like a good Instagrammer, I took a picture of glass in hand; by then, a dollop of butter sank to the bottom.
I took my sip, and to be honest, it was not as thick as I thought it to be. I looked at the gang of girls being happy with just one gulp and wondered if am a glutton. I finished the half cup quickly, and the butter stared at me from the bottom of the glass. I tried my best to suck it out, held it perpendicular to my face waiting for it to fall on my nose, tried leaving my hand in; it just didn’t come!
I paid for the Lassi and asked if I can take a picture. He said you and quickly closed all the lassi vessels like my photo to capture the secret recipe. My lassi expedition did not go well. But the word Patiala got registered in my mind.
Finding Perfect Lassi In Punjab
My Punjab trip came up, and I dreamed of having Lassi almost every day! I was already five days into the trip, and I was yet to hold the perfect cup in my hand. What was more confusing was people kept thrusting in glasses of chaas in my hand in the name of Lassi.
The chilled salted buttermilk was passed into my hand, and I gave a bewildered look back, “But this is chaas!” And people around me also went, “Arey, this is a thin version of lassi!” What, how?!
Lassi is Lassi, and buttermilk is buttermilk. And I was in the land of Lassi where people were royally confusing me with what I have learnt and dreamed of all this while. I was at Patiala, and I started ranting to my cab driver. “Bhaiya, still no good lassi bhaiyaaaa!” I went on and put on a puppy face. And he replied, “Arey madam, you should have Chati lassi that is the best. What you get in shops is not chati lassi!” Chati lassi!! Now, what is that?! I have one more variety to taste?
Now what is Chatti lassi, I ask in curiosity, and he goes on to explain,
“The yoghurt is set in a mud pot overnight. Only a mud pot can give the right consistency, we then add water to it, churn the mixture, take out butter, and the rest of the liquid is chati lassi. Ready!
Every day morning, we have it, and butter goes for roti!” He finishes it proudly, and my mind is blown! “Bhaiya, that is chaas, not lassi!” Like I know better than a Punjabi, I boldly try to correct him. And he says, “Nahi madam, chaas is you take the yogurt, add water, dilute it and add salt jeera. Lassi is different, na!” Dinggg!!! So what I have been having been the traditional form of Lassi, and nobody educated me about this all the while!
Why world why?
Why doesn’t the Punjabi restaurants down south have chati lassi on the menu! Why!!
So this liquefied version of Lassi is being had in Punjabi households in the morning instead of what I thought gulping down a huge glass of thick sweet yogurt. “But don’t worry, madam. Patiala has the best lassi shop! I will take you there.
They have flavoured Lassi too”, he added. So the last stop of the day was at Patiala Shahi Lassi. I looked at the elaborate menu and then settled down for the traditional mango lassi.
A glass overflowing with Lassi was kept in front of me. It looked like vanilla ice cream was dropped into my mango lassi and some chocolate chips on top of it! For what, I thought and dug in. Wrong! Again am Wrong! Not ice cream, but malai. I scooped it with a spoon and kept having it. That was probably the best Lassi I had till now.
My face was gleaming as I had it, and I immensely appreciated the shop manager for the taste of Lassi. To which he replied, “Have you not had lassi before?!” Facepalm moment!
Anyways, that was the first best Lassi I had in Punjab – Shahi Lassi Patiala.
I was satisfied with the Lassi I had in Patiala and was done with my quest for the best Lassi. I had no other option cos by now, I had caught a severe throat infection, and my voice sounded like that of a robot. I was at Amritsar, the centre for Punjabi food and foodies.
The day I landed in Amritsar, I had ambitiously drafted a list of milk bandars from where I should be drinking Lassi. But I dropped the idea as I could hardly feel taste anymore. I was pretty disappointed by the turn of events as I fell sick at the most happening place. It was morning, and I had hired a cab for the day to venture outside Amritsar. He turned around the corner and asked,
“Did you have Lassi here? It is the best in town!” I have no idea what came into my mind, and I blurted, “let’s have lassi!” My throat screamed for a hot cup of chai, and I brought the car to a screeching halt for cold Lassi.
I walked up to the shop that read “Giani De Lassi”. I stopped in front of the shop to admire the beauty for a while. A pot is churning the curd. There are trays of set yogurt with a thick layer of crusted malai on top. A guy is gently scraping the malai out of the curd and is stalking it on top of a giant ice cube.
A guy orders lassi. A glass is passed on to one person; he swirls the tumbler, picks a bit of malai, drops it in, adds a dollop of butter, sinks in a spoon and hands it over to the customer. I was still looking at it like Alice in Wonderland when the guy started to look at me like a weird person who keeps staring! “One lassi” okay, that did not come out… uh hum, I cleared my throat and asked again, “One lassi”.
The magical portion came to my hand. The malai and butter were competing for space in my glass. I took a piece of butter, malai and Lassi in a spoon… Oh heaven!! Heaven folks, heaven! The malai itself was so thick and crisp, and the Lassi was also thick and the butter just silky soft. Wonder why butter is added? It is the same chati lassi concept.
The butter that has been taken out is added back in dollops. Wah! Punjabis! And all these years, I thought sugar in curd makes Lassi!
My quest for Lassi ended in Amritsar at Giani De Lassi. That was my breakfast for the day and the perfect Lassi, I should say. Now that I know the ideal recipe for Lassi, I am not sure if I can settle for the humble curd with sugar anymore.
Nevertheless, Punjab is the land of Lassi and no doubt in that!
Where did you have your best Lassi?
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