City Food – Bel Juice, Ashram & Elsewhere
Brief and intense.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A chunk of the sunset scooped out of the evening sky, put into a platter, softened with a cupful of creamy milk, kneaded into a dough of very viscous consistency.
This is how it is looking like. The thick pulpy bel, or wood apple, stored inside street hawker Pramod’s earthen pitcher, here in Ashram. When some of this is plopped into a glass of sugared water, it becomes bel juice.
The bel juice carts are popping up across the summer-time streets of the megapolis. In Gurgaon, Nand Ram who hawks gajak and roasted peanuts in the winter returned to bel some weeks ago. His cart looks the same as it did around this time a year back, a consoling continuity in our altering world. Stacked with dozens of this fruit, plus water jars, a box of sugar, ice blocks and a mixer.
While the mainstream street refreshers in the city tend to be musambi juice and ganne ka juice, the bel juice is the most filling. The gold-hued mush gives the drink a substantial body, the fragrance is intense. Bel is said to be Bhagwan Shiv’s favorite fruit. Ayurveda too holds it in high esteem.
In Sarojini Nagar, a handful of bel juice carts are doing two-in-one business. They have all the paraphernalia of a bel juice establishment, but an additional pitcher has its rim decked with pudina leaves. It contains the pungent jal jeera, watery and less filling. No offence to jaljeera romantics, but the coolness it gives so instantly doesn’t last long. Bel juice has more impact. The coolness, slow in coming, lasts longer, letting the body bear the summer heat more tolerably, for a greater duration.
Suddenly mobbed by thirsty passers-by, Pramod, here in Ashram starts serving his 10 rupees worth of juice glass one by one, quickly. He says he slices the fruit in half, and tears out the pulp with a chammach.
Some distance away is Shahrukh’s juice cart (see photo), equipped with a hand-operated mixer, full with fresh bel pulp.
The bel come from Azadpur Subzi Mandi, Pramod says, where they come from UP orchards. The season will end at some point in May, he says.
Ps: Bel should not be confused with the other Hindi word for bel, which means vine.