The shorbot and juice culture of old Dhaka
In a country that has a hot and sultry climate like ours and most days of the year seem like summer, we have a certain longing for everything cold and refreshing such as shorbot. Especially for people living in older parts of the city, there exists a distinct attachment to shorbot and a glass of freshly extracted juice.
For the average Dhakaiya, shorbot is more than just a drink. It has memories dating back to childhood. Most Dhakaiyas living in old town have one common problem growing up, which is the absurd amount of traffic they have to face on a daily basis.
"I remember sitting in traffic under the blazing, hot sun every day eagerly waiting to go home and being greeted with a refreshing glass of shorbot," said Tanisha reminiscing about her childhood.
And the same is done for guests – greeting guests in a Dhakaiya household with a glass of fresh fruit juice is customary. Like the various traditions that old Dhaka holds in terms of food, shorbot is also one of them. It is a part of every celebration and occasion, be it a large gathering or simply greeting guests if they pay us a visit.
But the culture of shorbot, although modernising, is nothing new in old town. Some historical names and shops in this part of the city have rightfully earned their place in the rich culture of shorbots – take Nurani Cold Drinks, Beauty Lassi, and Royal Restaurant for example, that have gained such fame that they have their names etched in our culinary map.
Badam er shorbot from Royal Restaurant is a classic. With its rich and delectable taste, it is like the regal heritage passed down by the Mughal confined in a glass. Likewise, limeade from Nurani Cold Drinks is unmatched. But it is not only these historic shops that sell juice so loved by people, several stores have also popped up with an array of drinks, which keeps the shorbot scene in old town abuzz.
Made from various fruits and existing in vibrant colours, these come in flavours aplenty, from basic ones like mango to exotic picks like custard apple and sapodilla. Custard apple in the form of a juice may be questionable, and to understand this absurdity, you should try it for yourself! Mellow, subtly sweet, and thick is the best way to describe it, but make sure you try it out when the fruit is in season.
More deshi fruits in the line-up include mango, pineapple, guava, watermelon, papaya, sourwood apple, and pomelo fruit. Kalo jaam and olive juice are crowd-pleasers with their refreshingly tropical fruity taste and striking colours. Juices of fruits that are gaining popularity in our country are also widely available such as strawberry, kiwi, persimmon, and avocado —who would have thought avocado milkshake would one day become so common in the nooks and alleys of old town?
All these flavours are available in little juice shops scattered around old town, which have more customers than they can possibly manage. Especially during Ramadan, there is a massive rush before iftar and post-Taraweeh prayers, where people line-up to rejuvenate themselves after a long day of fasting. Among other delectable flavours, date milkshake is a crowd favourite during these hours.
"Me and my friends drop by here every day after Taraweeh prayers to find an escape from the humid weather," said Ishmam while sipping on a glass of juice at Shahi Juice Corner in Lalbag.
But beware of takeaways! These juices are so pure and freshly made that they cannot be stored for more than a few hours. "You can only take a select few flavours back home but make sure you consume them by today while they are still fresh," a shopkeeper was overheard telling one of their patrons.
While previously, juices around old town only referred to carts scattered here and there selling freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, now, shops offering exotic flavours are dotted all around town uplifting this amazing culture of shorbot that we have.