If you are an Indian then Lassi drink needs no introduction. Having a glass full of good Lassi itself can be the most satisfying thing on a hot sunny day. But I never had to check on weather before slurping on a cup. The simplest form of lassi to me is to just fill a tumbler full of curd, give it a beat, add sugar, mix it well, gulp it down and wipe the mustache. Finding a cup of leftover curd at home was enough an excuse to have lassi. Have you seen how most of the south Indian meals end? We always keep the cup of curd to have at the end and the very understanding waiter comes around with a spoon and sugar. Add a spoonful sugar to the curd and there, the meal ends with a dessert. Me and my mom are born with sweet tooth and we have always enjoyed our cup with sugar. In fact, one of my comfort foods is lassi.
My first encounter of having the huge tumbler full of lassi was when I was new to Bangalore and ordered one at Oye Amritsar restaurant. You have seen how tall those glasses can get right? The huge glass had lassi that I had never tasted before. My curd and sugar variation got upgraded to one with kesar flavor and almond flakes added on top! I kind of could not finish that glass. Until that day I had no idea of kesar lassi, mango lassi and I could not even accept the concept of salted and masala lassi. I mean it is supposed to be sweet, how can you add salt and masala to it? I just could not take this variation. But mango and kesar lassi soon became my favorite. If it was a Punjabi restaurant it was always lassi over jaljeera or tandai.
One day I was watching a famous program in TV where they showed a kesar lassiwala in Chennai. Apparently Anmol kesar Patiala lassi in mint street Sowcarpet is known to many in Chennai but that was the first time I saw in TV. As the anchor was interviewing the lassiwala, he was churning the lassi, poured it into a tumbler, swirled the tumbler and to my surprise added a dollop of butter!! Butter in lassi?! Why?? But the anchor seemed to enjoy it the most and the foodie in me wanted to try it so badly.. Only then did I look up online and people were raving about it as the thickest lassi they have had and can never finish a glass. I looked at the map and it was a bloody 30km away from my home so I chucked the idea. While days passed dreaming about the chilled patiala lassi that I saw, one day my friend offered to take me there. Delighted, we walked through the narrow lanes of Sowcarpet and there the shop was, with many paper clippings around him boasting off as the best lassi. A group of 6 girls got one tumbler and shared it among them. Not sure if I will be able to finish the glass I asked for half a glass.
The lassi was poured into the tumbler, gave it a swirl, added a dollop of butter and handed it over to me. Like I have got the nectar that I have been waiting for, I beamed with the tumbler in my hand. And like a good instagramer I took the picture of glass in hand, by then the dollop of butter sank to the bottom. I took my sip and to be honest it was not as thick as I thought it to be. I looked at the gang of girls being happy with just one gulp and wondered if am a glutton. I finished the half cup easily and the butter stared at me from the bottom of the glass. Tried my best to suck it out, held it perpendicular to my face waiting for it to fall on my nose, tried leaving my hand in, it just didn’t come! I paid for the lassi and asked if I can take a picture. He said ya and quickly closed all the lassi vessels, like my photo is gonna capture the secret recipe. My lassi expedition did not go well. But the word Patiala got registered in my mind.
My Punjab trip came up and I dreamed of having lassi almost everyday! I was already 5 days into the trip and I was yet to hold the perfect cup in my hand. What was more confusing was people kept thrusting in glasses of chaas in my hand in the name of lassi. The salted chilled buttermilk was passed into my hand and I gave a bewildered look back, “But this is chaas!” And people around me also went, “Arey this is thin version of lassi!” Whaat, howww?! Lassi is lassi, buttermilk is buttermilk. And I was in the land of Lassi where people were royally confusing me with what I have learnt and dreamed of all this while. I was at Patiala and I started ranting to my cab driver. “Bhaiya, still no good lassi bhaiyaaaa!” I went on and put a puppy face. And he replied, “Arey madam, you should have Chati lassi that is the best. What you get in shops is not chati lassi!” Chati lassi!! Now what is that?! I have one more variety to taste? Now what is Chatti lassi, I ask in curiosity and he goes on to explain, “The yogurt is set in a mud pot overnight. Only a mud pot can give the right consistency, we then add water to to it, churn the mixture, take out butter and the rest of the liquid is chati lassi. Ready! Every day morning we have it and butter goes for roti!” He finishes it proudly and my mind is blown! “Bhaiya, that is chaas not lassi!” Like I know better than a Punjabi, I boldly try to correct him. And he says, “Nahi madam, chaas is you take the yogurt, add water, dilute it and add salt jeera. Lassi is different na!” Dinggg!!! So what I have actually been having is the traditional form of lassi and nobody educated me about this all the while! Why world why? why doesn’t the Punjabi restaurants down south have chati lassi in menu! Whyyyy!! So this liquefied version of lassi is what is being had in Punjabi households in the morning as opposed to what I thought gulping down a huge glass of thick sweet yogurt.
“But don’t worry madam. Patiala has the best lassi shop! I will take you there. They have flavored lassi too”, he added. So the last stop of the day was at Patiala Shahi Lassi. I looked at the elaborate menu and then settled down for the traditional mango lassi. A glass overflowing with lassi was kept in front of me. It looked like vanilla ice cream was dropped into my mango lassi and some chocolate chips on top of it! For what, I thought and dug in. Wrong! Again am Wrong! Not ice cream, but malai. I scooped it with spoon and kept having it. That was probably the best lassi I had till now. My face was gleaming as I had it and I immensely appreciated the shop manager for the taste of lassi. For which he simply replied as, “Have you not had lassi before?!” Facepalm moment! Anyways that was the first best lassi I had in Punjab – Shai Lassi Patiala.
I was actually satisfied with the lassi I had in Patiala and was done with my quest for best lassi. I had no other option cos by now I had caught a severe throat infection and my voice sounded like that of a robot. I was at Amritsar, the center for Punjabi food and foodies. The day I landed in Amritsar, I had ambitiously drafted list of milk bandars from where I should be drinking lassi. But I dropped the idea as I could hardly feel taste anymore. I was pretty disappointed by the turn of events as I fell sick at the most happening place. It was morning and I had hired a cab for the day to venture outside Amritsar. He turned around the corner and asked, “Did you have lassi here? It is the best in town!” I have no idea what came into my mind, I blurted, “let’s have lassi!” My throat literally screamed for hot cup of chai and I brought the car to a screeching halt for cold lassi. I walked up to the shop that read “Giani De Lassi”. I stopped in front of the shop just to admire the beauty for a while. A pot is churning the curd. There are trays of set yogurt with thick layer of crusted malai on top. A guy is gently scraping the malai out of the curd and is stalking it on top of a huge ice cube. A guy orders lassi. A glass is passed on to one person, he swirls the tumbler, picks a bit of malai drops it in, adds a dollop of butter, sinks in a spoon and hands it over to the customer. I was still looking at it like Alice in Wonderland when the guy started to look at me like a weird person who keeps staring! “One lassi”, okay that did not come out.. uhhum, I cleared my throat and asked again, “One lassi”. The magical portion came to my hand. The malai and butter were competing for space in my glass. I took a portion of butter, malai and lassi in spoon.. Oh heaven!! Heaven folks heaven! The malai itself was so thick and crisp and the lassi was also thick and the butter just silky soft. Wonder why butter is added? It is the same chati lassi concept. The butter that has been taken out, is added back in dollops. Wah! Punjabis! And all these years I thought sugar in curd makes lassi!
My quest for lassi ended in Amritsar at Giani De Lassi. That was my breakfast for the day and the most perfect lassi I should say. Now that I know the perfect recipe of lassi am not sure if I can settle for the humble curd with sugar anymore. Nevertheless Punjab is the land of Lassi and no doubt in that! Where did you have your best lassi?
If you are looking for a stay at Amritsar – click here