THERE ISN'T A PALETTE MORE DIVERSE THAN AN INDIAN ONE. AND YOU'D BE HARD PRESSED TO FIND THAT KIND OF VARIETY FROM JUST A SINGLE SECTION OF THE COUNTRY ANYWHERE ELSE.
One of the earnest ideas behind The Permit Room is to introduce people to the sheer variety of traditional South Indian cuisine, but with a modern-day take on it. Essentially it's recipes from your ajji's (Kannada for grandma) kitchen, but served in a rather modern, and also cocktail-friendly form. Your ajji may or may not approve.
Thindi Tales is an attempt to take you one step deeper, the equivalent of getting you to eat meals with your fingers, and hopefully help you appreciate south-indian cuisine in all its gastronomic glory.
This time, we have some heart soothings, a dish with a rather sweet story—the pretty-in-pink Jil Jil Jigarthanda.
You know this one is a classic just by the name—Jil Jil Jigarthanda, deconstructed and all. And it traces its roots to the very hot, the very historical, Madurai.
The beauty of the Jil Jil Jigarthanda (nope, you can’t say it without the double ‘jil jil’) lies in its simplicity and versatility—you can find it being sold on the streets, where indeed its humble beginnings lie, or find it in a most-happening-modern-take-on-South-Indian-food-pub as well. (Some places come to mind.)
The main ingredient which cuts it apart from the Falooda or other similar coolers is Badam Pisin/Badam Gum (dried sap from the badam tree). The classic preparation of the drink involves milk, kadal paasi (or China Grass for ease of pronunciation) and nannari (sarsaparilla root extract) sherbet. And based on who’s selling, these ingredients are sometimes substituted for a signature taste—sugar syrup in place of nannari sherbet, or with a scoop of ice cream. Is that fancy-pants or what?!
The drink also has a kinky side-story, in that it used to be a popular option as the 'wedding night drink'. If you’ve seen enough old school Bollywood movies, then you can’t have missed the blushing-bride-with-ghoonghat-too-low-to-see-anything-bringing-warm-milk-to-creepy-looking-husband-in-shiny-white-pyjamas trope. Ah, classics!
The reason for this popularity being that jigarthanda contains almonds, which are aphrodisiacs, and well, milk, which is a natural sedative. So, almond to get you in the mood and milk to help you snooze. Hot, and cool, all at the same time! Well done, ancestors!
A Little History
Believed to have been brought into the country by the Mughals, a popular interpretation of the meaning of the name is ‘ something that cools the heart’, a literal translation from Hindi.
Makes sense, because if the Mughals were spending time in Madurai, they would definitely need something to cool their hearts, among other things. Most likely though, that the Muslims in Madurai, who were originally from Hyderabad, just brought the recipe along with them.
And delighted the hearts of Madurai-ites…umm…Madurites…erm…Madurians…well, people living in Madurai ever since.
There’s another theory that talks about the name evolving to or from jigar ‘danda’, meaning stick or mace, which may or may not have been connected to Hanuman or Bheema from the Indian epics, Ramayan and Mahabharata respectively. Carts selling the drink sometimes carry a cool illustration of Bheema on the side, lending some credibility to this theory.
There is evidence to support the claim that the glorious drink was brought to our country by the Mughals though—in the Ain-i-Akbari, which is the administrative record of Akbar’s reign (and also a chapter in every CBSE History text), there is mention of a similar drink made of pisin.
We like the literal and ‘cool’ interpretation, involving cooling the heart, a little better. So, let’s run with that ok?
At the Permit Room
In its most classic form, the Jigarthanda contains kadal paasi (make an effort to learn the authentic name, damn it!), milk, some nannari sherbet, and maybe a dash of vanilla essence even. The really cool boys sometimes add some colour also.
Remember that Badam Pisin we mentioned?
"At the Permit Room, we rehydrate it into a jelly like texture and use it as the base layer for the Jil Jil. And then proceed to serve you with the deconstructed version which contains Dulce de leche (slow reduction of sweetened milk that is caramelized), Basil seeds that have been hydrated in water, toasted Pistachio flakes, a quenelle of ice cream, either Vanilla or Pista, which is then topped off with some fried, sweetened rice noodles as a garnish", our Chef says.
And with this, we serve a side of double reduced milk in a choice of two flavours—Rose or Nannari.
Our version also has another exciting 'shoo shaa' factor to it, which we would explain, but where’s the fun in that?
At the Permit Room, it’s an homage in the form of a dessert, to this endearing drink that started out in the sweltering streets of Madurai and made its way all the way here.
‘Jigarthanda’ is fast becoming the substitute slang for the appalling ‘chill pill’, the last time we checked.
Ok. That’s a lie. But we’re trying really hard. I mean, “Jigar thanda, macchi” over “Take a chill pill, bro". Come on!
Help us, won’t you? Some very nascent research tells us that 1200 tweets between 12am-6am should do the trick, to get it trending on Twitter and all. So if you’re going to commit, let us know.
Also, @thepermitroom. Just in case.