City Food – Mohabbat ka Sherbet, Matia Mahal
Drink of love.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Love has spread like a virus. This being the chaotic Walled City, it is more appropriate to say that love has leaked along the gallis and kuchas of Shahjahanabad like sewage water from a broken drainage pipe.
To cut the story short: love, which is mohabbat, has transmuted into mohabbat ka sherbet. This cooling drink has trumped all the other drinks one would encounter in the historic Mughal-era quarter, such as meethi lassi, karadi ka doodh, bel sherbet, sattu ka ghol, ganne ka juice, jal zeera pani, and of course Rooh Afza, the legendary rose drink that was born in Old Delhi at the turn of the last century. (Although mohabbat ka sherbet does have Rooh Afza as one of its principal ingredients.)
The stalls for this drink are particularly ubiquitous in the main street of Matia Mahal. Just too many establishments happen to be of mohabbat ka sherbet. Many of these are mere carts. Others are part of a larger enterprise, such as Salim Tea House that recently started to stock the drink in a separate street-facing counter. Even some garment stores are selling it.
One sherbet place has a large billboard that, at night, lits up in red—disco style—with the signage ‘sharbat e mohabbat.’ It claims to be the original shop that started this drink nine years ago.
The sherbet consists of watermelon juice mixed with a concoction of milk, Rooh Afza syrup and lots of sugar. A few sellers garnish the drink with rose petals. Most prepare the sherbet in advance and keep it cold with slabs of ice. Sometimes artfully cut slices of water melons are arranged symmetrically upon the pink tetra packs of full-cream Amul Gold Milk. The stalls remain crowded throughout the day, throughout the long evening and way beyond the midnight. The sweating drinkers swallow down the entire glass in one or two gulps, and quickly move on.
Curiously, no sherbet seller is able to confidently tell that just why is this drink named after mohabbat.
One imaginative stall owner explains that may be because the sherbet is as sweet as mohabbat. But then Old Delhi’s sickly sweet street chai too ought to be called mohabbat ki chai.
Whatever, the winters are about to start, and while most mohabbat ka sherbet stalls will continue to serve the drink (“since these days melons remain available the year round”, according to one hawker), the pleasure of such an icy drink will not be as thrilling in the cold season.
Come after the sunset, when the aforementioned billboard of the “original” sherbet landmark (shop no. 1125) lights up the night sky.
Love trumps all