Saturday, March 27, 2010

Buttermilk Drink for the Thirsty Traveller

There was a time when walking was one of the most prevalent modes of travel in India. When train services were scarce, when cars were only for the super rich, when only a few could afford a bicycle, folks traveled by foot--whether visiting a relative across the town or a village away. Southern summers can be hot with daytime temperatures often as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Leaving an earthenware pot filled with water or better still, with a freshly made buttermilk drink, on the front verandah of the house or the street corner or at the village entrance is an old tradition in Southern India--a way of saying welcome and take a rest to the hot and tired traveler even if he was a stranger.

A lot has changed in India in the last two decades. Single family homes with front porches are increasingly replaced with multistoried gated condo communities. Long distance travel is now done via planes, trains, buses and cars and, public transportation, auto-rickshaws and two-wheel scooters are the modes of local travel. Yet, one thing still remains the same--the hot summer and the need for cold water to quench the thirst and to cool the body. And, the tradition of providing free buttermilk drink continues while adapting to the new realities of travel and condo living.

At the condo community where my sister and mother live, my sister has set up a spot under a large shady tree where a pot filled with fresh buttermilk awaits all who drop in during the day. These are mostly service personnel like the watchman, janitor, pushcart vendors, maids, the guy who comes on the weekend to iron the clothes and others. To these folks who commute by bus or bike to work and then toil in the hot sun, the cool drink offers a refreshing relief. Every morning around 10 o'clock, the buttermilk drink is prepared in our kitchen and then poured into the pot and set up in the yard. By late afternoon, it is usually all finished.

Preparing the drink is extra work for our housekeeper and my sister spends about 45 rupees ($1) per day on the milk for the yogurt (not a small amount for India). Yet, it is a nice way of saying thank you to the men and women servicing her community.

  The pushcart waiting for presswala or isthri, who using hot coal irons the clothes

   Supplying fish to one of the ladies

    A hungry cat hoping to catch a morsel of fish

Recipe for Buttermilk drink


Fresh homemade yogurt (or store bought yogurt) half a cup
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly ground cumin to taste
Salt to taste
Freshly ground red pepper flakes (optional)
Fresh coriander finely chopped

Using a whisk churn the yogurt and dilute it with water. For half a cup of yogurt, add approximately a quarter cup of water. The yogurt should be diluted to a water-like consistency but without losing the taste of yogurt.

Add all the ground spices and salt. The taste of the spices and the salt should not overwhelm the taste of yogurt.

Chill in the refrigerator.

Sprinkle the coriander on top before serving.


  1. What a fabulous gester and great traditon. Thanks for sharing Indira!

  2. Lovely tradition! Thanks for sharing this with us. :)

  3. that's really wonderful & cool! thanks for that!

  4. Wow, great story and the recipe sounds delicious. :)


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