Keeping it Cool on the Street!

[A good, strong Hyderabadi stomach is recommended before trying any of the street-side coolers mentioned here]

Hyderabadi summers have to be experienced to be believed. Stepping out is like stepping into a sauna. If you stand out for more than a few minutes at a time, your skin is liable to slowly peel off, and you will quickly melt into a pool of unspeakability, which will evaporate before anyone can say ‘unspeakability’. I kid you not.

However, brave soul that I am, I ventured out into this terrible heat on more than a few occasions, and have lived to tell the tale. The secret to survival in this heat is to keep yourself hydrated at all times. And to help you do that, there are numerous roadside vendors peddling you many types of coolers. Here are a few of my encounters with these purveyors of the finest coolants money can buy on the streets of Hyderabad.

The first of my street encounters was with Sheikh Hassan, an old timer who has been peddling khoye ka burf – a sweet concoction of khoya and ice – ever since my dad was knee-high in knickerbockers. I met him when I was exploring the aquarium shops in Rezimental bazaar. The sun was beating down and we were looking for something to beat the heat. That was when we spotted him – the old Sheikh was walking down the street, pushing a rickety old wooden cart. People kept walking up to him and buying something in a disposable tumbler and retreating into the hot shade. Our curiosity was piqued, and we decided to give him our custom.

We went up to him and that was when I got a closer look at his paraphernalia. The top of his cart was occupied by a few cylindrical aluminium containers, a ceramic jar with a brown liquid in it, and a block of ice covered by some old sacking. He was just finishing up an order as we reached him. We asked for one each, and as he made it, we tried to find out more about him. He told us he had been making and selling this stuff for fifty years, and that he would also cater to weddings and kitty parties. He started out by shaving off some ice from his block and putting it into a disposable plastic glass. Then, he opened one of the aluminium cylinders to reveal a block of khoya. He scraped off some of this using a spoon and deposited it on top of the ice. Over this he added a spoonful of syrup from the ceramic jar, and used his spoon to mix all this till it was homogenous. Chucking a plastic spoon into each glass, he passed it to us. Whatever qualms we had had about the concoction evaporated with the first tentative spoonful. It was gently sweet, delightfully cold and wonderfully welcome!

How could we find him, we asked, did he have a phone number where he could be reached if we wanted him to cater for a party? He vaguely waved his arms in the direction of where he came from and said, “I’m here all the time. Just ask anyone, and they’ll tell you.” If you are in the Rezimental Bazaar area, ask around for him, and if you find him, you can taste a bit of Hyderabadi history!

The second encounter I had was with a lemon soda vendor outside the Botanical Garden at Kondapur. We were gathering to bid farewell to a friend, and a few of us reached earlier. As we parked and walked to the gate, we saw the lemon soda guy with his cart. It wasn’t hard getting the others to join me – the heat was doing the selling, and we were all buying! The soda this guy had was the goli soda of our childhoods.

A goli soda comes in a green bottle, and is sealed by a glass marble (the eponymous ‘goli’). The marble has to be pushed in to open the bottle. How a goli soda bottle is opened is half the fun. The boring way is to use an opener – shaped like a bottle cap with a small cylinder jutting from it. This is kept on the marble and pressed, pushing in the marble and opening the bottle. The cool way to open it is to put your thumb or index finger on the marble, bent at the first joint, and smashing it with the heel of your other hand. This opens the bottle with a satisfying pop, and you try to look very cool as you ignore the throbbing pain in your finger (or thumb) as you down the soda!

Coming back to our vendor – he was the coolest, nonchalantly popping the soda with his index finger to pour into the freshly-squeezed lime seasoned with salt and chat masala. This is the classic roadside cooler, and can be had from many vendors along any summer street. It goes down fast, and cools you down immediately. My friend Sourav was feeling cool enough, and I pounced on the chance to drink his share as well!

The third encounter was perhaps the most interesting. We were driving down Sikh Village Road and were entering MG Road when we came across a group of people gathered around a lady with a wooden cart. The cart had an earthern pot on it, wrapped with a red cloth and topped with a bunch of fresh green mint. Pulling over, we took our place in the crowd and awaited our chance to partake of the cooler. It was a particularly hot day, and we were eager to get whatever cooler we could find.

We asked for a cup each, and the lady squeezed a couple of lemons into two disposable plastic glasses. To this, she added salt and chat masala, before uncovering the earthern pot. From it, she poured out a dark green watery liquid into the glasses, topping them up. Our first tentative sips were followed by delighted gulps – this was unlike anything we had tasted before. The liquid was cool and fiery at the same time – the predominant tastes being that of mint and green chillies. We quickly quaffed our drinks, and were ready for more. Only after we had downed another glass each did the fieriness of the chillies hit us. In spite of the spice, the drinks cooled us down, and the lady, whose name was Chunchun Devi and who was from Bihar, told us about the drink. The key to it was a paste made out of green chillies, mint and a host of other spices. She showed us two huge plastic jars of the dark green paste, and said she would use it all up in the course of the day. The drink would detoxify you from the throat down to your stomach, she claimed, and with its fieriness, it was easy to believe.

Summer’s almost at an end, and the Southwest monsoon has set in. We’ve already had the first showers, and the weather is cooling down. We will have to wait till the next summer for more delicious street-side coolers!

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