It was during a walk in the busy Dalhousie area with a friend amidst the din and cacophony of tired people returning home I heard my friend inquiring about Phalsa with a fruit seller.The name Phalsa reminded me of the sing song tunes of Kaale Kaale phalse,sharbat wale phalse,thande meethe phalse,raseele phalse …..the words reverberate fresh from memories of years ago when I used to visit my Pishi (paternal aunt) in Bihar during summer vacations. Seeing the Phalsa lovingly displayed in a hypermarket here in Kolkata after a few days, I decided to pick it up for my friend who yearned for the taste of his favorite childhood fruit which was so much part of growing up. Associated with such food memories are not just the taste but also the nostalgia about places and people no longer around. Food evokes a very strong emotive sense as we often try to search for a long forgotten food or attempt to recreate the taste which still lingers on in our taste buds. I wanted to write an ode to Phalsa -a food icon of our childhood summer vacations and our loved ones who are no longer there to garnish the bowlful of Phalsa.
Phalsa an indigenous summer fruit-blackish purple berry with the scientific name Grewia Asiatica resembles blueberries to an extent. It is cultivated mainly in the northern regions of the country between April to June. Indigenous to India, they are also grown in Nepal,Pakistan, SriLanka and Bangladesh.Introduced in Indonesia and Philippines in the early half of 20th century, Phalsa now is very popular in Thailand,Cambodia and Vietnam. A thirst quencher, Phalsa is intrinsically linked to hot summer afternoons of our childhood days. Phalsa defined summer for many. Vendors calling out on cycles with wicker baskets where Phalsas were delicately wrapped in a wet jute cloth, cousins rushing out to buy the cherished fruit, a little sprinkling of black salt on them and you have the whole afternoon to turn it within your mouth, close your eyes in happiness as the sweet tangy juice envelops the senses.The taste of the berry depends on its ripeness. Hand plucked and very delicate in texture it turns reddish from a freshly plucked green one to a ripe purplish one which is the most tasty.
The health benefits of Phalsa are multifarious. Astringent and a cooling agent they are excellent for heart and blood disorders ,fevers and diarrhoea. With a low glycemic index they can well be a super food soon. A strong antioxidant with anti bacterial properties they prevent dehydration during summer months.The benefits of Phalsa are well documented in Ayurveda treatises which highlights its anti inflammatory property and antibiotic usages.
If you salivate at the sight of the purple berries do not wait, have the Phalsa straight out of the shopping bag.Just wash it well, sprinkle some black salt, give it a rub. If it is a Sunday afternoon rush to the balcony or the terrace with a book you always wanted to reread and the bowl of Phalsa and enjoy the time to yourself. You have varied options with the Phalsa depending on your mood and occasion. If it is a very humid afternoon try preparing a Phalsa sherbat to be had in the evening as a mock-tail or add gin to the pulp,some soda, crushed mint leaves,top it with ice and say cheers to your loved ones.If you wish to cool yourself after dinner try making Phalsa Mousse or Phalsa Popsicle for the kids around.
The Making of the Phalsa Mocktail and the Cocktail
- Wash the Phalsa well.
- Soak them in water overnight in a glass bowl.The Phalsa should be submerged in the water.
- Add the required sugar to the water.The water will turn into a mystical purple and the sugar melt in it.
- Refrigerate this mixture.Take this out half an hour before you want to serve it.
- Mash the Phalsa with your hand,the pulp should be separated from the small seeds.
- Mix in more water and run through a sieve.
- Pour the phalsa extract to the mixer tumbler.
- Top it up with some black salt,some roasted cumin powder and sprigs of mint leaves.
- Give it a light shake .
- Transfer into glasses.
- Finish off with soda or water and crushed ice.
For those of us who want a heady summer evening add in Vodka or Gin to the mixer tumbler.
For the Phalsa Mousse combine the pulp of the berry with sugar and incorporate it into a light fluffy whipped cream and gelatin mix. Refrigerate for about six hours and serve as a desert on a hot summer evening.Experience temperatures going down ,frayed tempers being soothed and smiles around.
Available only for a few months in northern India and for a week in mid May in Kolkata pick your bagful of happiness. Introduce Phalsa to your kids on a summer afternoon and see their eyes illuminate. The beautiful purplish pink colour of the Phalsa drink will undoubtedly weave magic in your life.
For all those who love the Phalsa beyond words,for those whose eyes glisten with joy when they mix the salt with the Phalsa here’s a toast to their long lost love.Cheers to life and food memories.