The weather application on my phone informed that it was 35 degrees Celsius. 'Intermittent clouds', the app highlighted. There was not a hint of the fluffy white stuff to be seen anywhere in the clear sky. Do weather updates have a sense of humour? The app warned of 'heavy rainfall in the evening'.
Impossible, I thought, as the rickshaw winded its way through the narrow alleys of Old Dhaka. In this cruelly hot weather, cold and soothing drinks are the answer. And Old Dhaka, with all its distinctiveness, offers some drinks like nowhere else.
The most popular lassi is at Nurani Cold Drink. Established more than 60 years ago, the small shop in Chawk Bazaar has mastered the art of making lassi.
The sights and the ambience will startle you; the facility is like no other.
Large blocks of ice arrive at the shop in a van. A man brings out a 'khunti' (shovel) and breaks the ice into smaller pieces. The now more manageable blocks are put in a container. Beside the container is a robust block of a chopped off tree. Then, from the container, each chunk of ice is brought out and placed on the block. The man wraps the ice with a fabric before he brings out a large hammer.
Beating the ice provides interesting sights and sounds indeed.
The drinks are made on a slightly raised (about knee-high) platform, where the crushed ice is supplied. This platform -- beside which the men making the lassi take seats -- is where large bottles containing syrup, glasses and the curd are kept.
“One of the specialities of Nurani lassi is our curd,” Md. Makbul Hossain, the third generation proprietor of Nurani Cold Drink told. “It's exclusively made and supplied only to us,” he informed.
With ice, curd and other ingredients on the glass, a man blends the mixture with a spoon and his rapid wrist-work. Finally, with enormous speed and unbelievable accuracy, he pours the lassi to and fro between the glass and a cup, several times, with not even a drop of liquid wasted on the floor.
The final product is a charming glass of lassi, possibly the best you'll ever have.
“Profit comes eventually; goodwill is of primary and utmost concern,” Hossain shared his business policy.
The home of the best lassi is also home to lemonade, with the bottle of a solution of 'bit lobon' sitting on the table as an optional additive.
The beauty of lemonades
Although Nurani has lemonades, it is more known for its lassi. Beauty Shorbot is just the opposite: although it has lassi, it is more known for its lemonade.
Lemonades in hot weather are very appealing, and Beauty Shorbot, located in Nazira Bazaar, makes some of the best lemonades.
The two large pieces of lemon directly dipped -- with one even squeezed to the bottom of the glass -- probably does the trick: the enchanting smell of lemon skin adds to the drink, providing a more refreshing experience. The syrup also seems quite different.
In this hot weather, one glass of Beauty Sorbet will soothe you to the core. The shop also sells scrumptious kachchi biriyani.
Sweet, but not sugar
Lemonade and lassi are ubiquitous in Old Dhaka. There're many eateries and carts selling these drinks. A humble cart in front of Star Mosque (located in Armanitola) differentiates itself with jaggery (gur). You have the option between choosing sugar syrup and a jaggery solution.
“Lemonade with jaggery solution has a strong taste of the jaggery indeed, and the slightly subdued flavour of lemons creates a refreshing twist and overall makes the drink very tasty,” Ruhul Rabbi, a university student hailing from Shantinagar opined.
The ambience is marked by Tara Masjid, an old, beautiful mosque featuring motifs of blue stars and ornate designs done with broken China porcelain pieces.
A royal treat
Lemonades and lassi are not all. Another drink, which you'll hardly find in New Dhaka, is 'badamer shorbot'. Made with pistachio, this white-coloured sweet drink is heavenly.
Royal Restaurant in Lalbagh has become extremely popular in the current years. And one of the things it owes its fame to is its 'pesta badamer shorbot'. Very sweet, and quite similar to a milkshake, this magical drink at Royal Restaurant is very appetising in this hot and humid weather.
Royal Restaurant isn't the only place selling this beverage. Near the famous Saat Rowza shrine and beside Ananda Confectionary in Abul Hasnat Road, lies Kolkata Kachchi Ghor -- home to arguably the finest 'badamer shorbot' ever.
The milk is relatively thinner, and a strong focus on pistachio is evident. With rose water, kewra water and a hint of saffron, 'badamer shorbot' at Kolkata Kachchi Ghor is absolutely enchanting.
The eatery also boasts its kachchi biriyani, which, unlike most, is cooked with basmati rice.
Fancy a fruit?
Yet another place to get hold of 'badamer shorbot' is Shahi Juice Corner located in Lalbagh, just behind the fort.
However, the juice bar mainly specialises in fruit juice. The range of fruits they have in stock is amazing. Mangos (ripe or green), oranges, guavas and grapes and so on -- they've got them all. They won't fail you, even if you want strawberry milkshake. Rarely in Dhaka will you find a shop with such wide variety.
Of course, the streets of Dhaka are filled with carts selling sugarcane drinks -- which give the much-needed sugar-rush -- and indeed in many stores you'll find cold bottles of labang, which are reinvigorating, but these aforementioned special shops provide drinks like no other.
These shops also allow takeaways. Prices are delightfully low. Therefore, they offer the essential relief when you get tired of this hot weather.
And this weather seems crazy: at one time you get soaked in heat; and in the next, with rain.
It was late evening when I took the last sip of pineapple juice as a thunderclap startled me. Dark clouds now dominated the sky. My app wasn't joking about that 'heavy rainfall in the evening' after all. It was now the heavens’ time to use some 'ice', and prepare a 'drink'. Ah! The simple pleasures of life.
Photo: Star Lifestyle Archive