City Food – Jaggery Sherbet, Pahari Imli
A rare drink.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
But why can’t he give us his recipe?
Aqeel Ahmad turns his head towards the blurry bazar crowd, smiles like an enigmatic visionary and says nothing. A very special institution, he is the vendor of a most exclusive drink in the Walled City. To be sure, there is no dearth of drinks in the area’s summertime lanes. But all these nooks and corners are mostly filled up with shacks selling red sherbet. Particularly noteworthy is the melon-based Mohabbat ki Sherbet that has gone viral in the area (already featured here!).
But there can never be enough of Aqeel Ahmad’s offering. His jaggery-based gur sherbet is one of its only kind in the historic quarter. Determined to preserve his monopoly, he shall not share the recipe under any circumstances “because I’m the only one making this sherbet,” he asserts, standing behind his modest establishment at the entrance of Pahari Imli. It consists of a table on which lies a giant platter filled with the light gold-brown drink, which is protected from dust and flies by a plastic cover.
The makeshift stall has been a landmark for more than 70 years—though in winters the vendor temporarily substitutes it with a booth for diapers, woollen pajamas and “steamers” that he introduced with the arrival of the coronavirus. The sherbet stand’s origins go back to 1947, when “my walid saheb, Zaheer Ahmed, had to give up his jewellery store in Chandni Chowk due to inter-religious troubles.” The father started selling the gur sherbet, right on this spot, close to their home.
Now two young boys arrive. Aqeel Ahmad squeezes a lemon into a glass and pours the juice with a long ladle, old-fashioned enough to be worthy of a museum. One of the boys swallows down the drink in a single gulp, the other downs it slowly, savouring each sip.
The stall serves from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. The time has shifted for the ongoing fasting month of Ramzan—from 2pm to midnight.
PS: Sometimes, you will see the vendor’s son Nabeer at the stall. Equally close-lipped about the recipe, he tells the potential copycats to “ask papa”.
Drink with a secret recipe