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The sarbath makers of Kerala

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Meet the street-side mixologists, who can whip up anything from a simple lemon soda to a complex fizzy mocktail in a matter of minutes

Meet the street-side mixologists, who can whip up anything from a simple lemon soda to a complex fizzy mocktail in a matter of minutes

When you order a standard kulukki sarbath at one of the road-side juice shops in Kerala, you step back and watch the spectacle unfold. Sparkling water, at times milk, is flung into tall glasses and shaken with a cocktail shaker, thrown into the air a couple of times and deftly caught before adding a scoop of crushed ice and spritzed with syrup. If this kulukki can’t shake you, probably few drinks can. 

Kulukki in Malayalam means shaken and this fizzy drink, which gets its name from the way it is made, is still one of the most popular in the State.

Kulukki sarbath
| Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Kerala takes its drinks seriously; even if they are of the non-alcoholic variety. An average “cool bar” (as juice shops are commonly referred to here) could whip up anything from a plain lime soda to a flamboyant mocktail all in a matter of minutes. And summer is not even a prerequisite. From seasonal fruit to milk, sarasaparilla, malt health supplements and spices, the drinks are as good as the maker’s inventiveness. 

These street-side beverage makers are skilled mixologists, creating their own signature drinks and styles. The kulukki sarbath owes its popularity to Shaji’s shop at High Court Junction in Kochi. Shaji has been in the business for many years, but his kulukki, a refreshingly sweet, fizzy lemon-sarasaparilla-soda mix, rose to popularity in the past few years.

Shameer’s Boost Kulukki

The kulukki was soon adopted by others, who added their own ingredients and identities to it. Sarbath Shameer, whose ‘Boost Kulukki’ has a veritable fan base, is planning to open branches in all the 14 districts of Kerala. He came to Kochi from Kannur, worked as a helper in a few road-side eateries before setting up his sarbarth shop six years ago. The 24×7 shop gets a steady stream of visitors ordering Boost and Horlicks Kulukki at ₹40 a glass, in addition to the usual ginger, pineapple, orange, and lemon at ₹20. Shameer, however, recommends his eponymous drink –  “It is my own recipe with raisins, milk, honey and couscous – shaken well, of course,” he says.  

Shafeek’s Kilipoya sarbath

Sarbath Shafeek’s recipes contain a combination of flavours

Sarbath Shafeek’s recipes contain a combination of flavours
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The art is not just in the mixing, but in the nomenclature as well, says Sarbath Shafeek, whose drinks are as grandiose as their names. Shafeek is a local hero when it comes to his mixing skills, drawing food vloggers from different parts of Kerala to his outlet at the Velliyankallu Heritage Park at Thrithala in Palakkad district. His most popular drink is the ‘Kilipoya sarbath’ (which roughly translates to a state of being dazed). “You will be in a daze after you drink it,” he says, adding that his creation treads a fine balance between spicy, sour and sweet flavours.

“It is no secret, my Kilipoya sarbath contains a fine paste of bird’s eye chilli and gooseberry mixed with lemon, sweet sarbath, soda and served with lots of ice.” The names and the drinks get more complex, as Shafeek lists them out — Minnal Sarbath, Sarbath Jingli, Maram Chutti, Djinn and Kikkili. While Minnal (an ode to popular Malayalam film Minnal Murali), Djinn and Jingli are made of varying ratios of his chilli-gooseberry concoction, Kikkili (meaning tickle) contains blue curacao, strawberry and soda. “This one will make you laugh, and hence the name,” says Shafeek, who hails from Pattambi, and never fails to wear his chef’s cap and jacket to work. “I have not been to a culinary school. I learnt this on my own and I will keep experimenting,” he says.  

Don’t mock the mocktail

Mocktails at ‘Fusion Soda’ in Kochi

Mocktails at ‘Fusion Soda’ in Kochi
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In Kochi, this season, a few drinks joints have brought in new twists to their mocktail game. Fusion Soda, a hole-in-the-wall outlet at Vazhakkala, has introduced a cinnamon-smoked orange juice mocktail, in addition to a range of fizzy drinks involving fresh fruit, spices, kokum, chaat masala and even paan. Akhil Varghese, co-founder of Fusion Soda, says the idea is to make aspirational mocktails affordable and available at a street-side joint.

Masala soda of Thiruvananthapuram

A tiny outlet near Eeenchakkal Junction, in Thiruvananthapuram, attracts people from all over the city and tourists from Kovalam. Mohammed Haneefa (67), who runs the shop, says his grandfather Maideen Adima concocted the flavours, which includes 12 local ingredients ranging from gooseberry, lovelolikka (Indian Plum), karaka (date), bilimbi, mango, and lemon to bird’s eye green chilli, ginger, nutmeg, curry leaves, jaggery, dried ginger and asafoetida. 

The fruits are pickled for seven days and then mashed with a wooden spatula.The pulp is then spooned into beer glasses before adding soda and presto! The masala soda is good to be gulped. At ₹30, it is the best pick-me-up on a sultry day.

Mohammed Haneefa preparing Masala soda

Mohammed Haneefa preparing Masala soda
| Photo Credit: MAHINSHA S

Kozhikode, which is known to be the centre for milk sarbath has several places serving it in small earthern cups. The drink is called kudukka (earthen cup) sarbath, with some places offering the same in bamboo cups. Aswal Puthren, a food vlogger from Kozhikode, says his favourite is the ‘Iringadanpally sarbath’ served at Manoos Sarbath Kada in the city. “Named after the place, Iringadanpally, this sarbath is an incredulous mix of sweet and spice — say condensed milk, fruit and cheeramulaku (chilli).”

Nostalgia bottled

Almost all these drinks come with fizz, and Kerala has its share of old-world soda bottles with marble stoppers. Come summer and all roads in Kollam lead to a small outlet in Asramam maidan. Run by Rajesh Rajendran, the speciality here is ‘Kallu soda’, which is sprayed stylishly into big glasses lined up at the counter.

Tokens are given to control the rush and people wait under the big shady trees around the shop. Rajan P, who supervises the place, says the ‘ goli soda’ is bottled by them in Kollam. On offer are kallu soda, aka lime soda with plenty of sugar and a pinch of salt, orange soda and ice-cream soda.

The 100-year-old goli soda bottles at KKV Cool Drinks at Pachalam, Kochi, too, draw a steady crowd for its vintage value, says Sujith Dayanand, who runs the shop with his wife Anju Sujith. The soda is made at the shop and bottled there. “We have around 600 bottles that are British-made. Many of our customers come here just for admiring the bottles and soaking in the nostalgia,” he adds. The delicious ginger, lemon and fruity sodas here, however, are served in paper cups. “We want to preserve these bottles that come from another time,” Sujith says.   

(With inputs from Saraswathy Nagarajan)



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