Hot-weather treats add some drama to Punes moderate climate.
Summer is the best season to be a foodie in the region. It brings with it a world of cool and refreshing treats roadside Parsi dairy kulfi,enticingly coloured fruit crushes from Mahabaleshwar and jars full of irresistible raw mango pickle. My mother even calls it temporary pickle knowing fully well that it will be scooped into chapatis,spread upon toast and mashed into rice before disappearing into various middles within two days of its preparation.
Summer also tends to turn respectable folks into slapdash thieves and dog-bitten trespassers,since one never buys raw mangoes to make pickles,but plucks them from the neighbours tree. It adds just that slight smack of carefree fun to the understated spice of the brine.
In fact,the clue to making and enjoying a seasonal drink or snack is location and timing. If masala chai and pakoras taste best atop Sinhagad in the monsoon,summer sips and savouries are best relished at the cusp of a torrid day and that light evening breeze our city is blessed with throughout the year. Its indoor substitute is the fan,not the air conditioner. You cant really appreciate the minty cooler in your hand with the windows shut and the aircon droning away at 18 degrees; no,you want to be able to chuckle at your next guest perspiring as he hurries across the lawn to reach your house. It takes vantage views,furiously spinning blades and energetically fluttering curtains to evoke that complacent Aaah!
I suspect part of the reason why so many Puneites are determined to invite guests and inundate them with refreshments in summer is because we are unjustly denied the wintry culinary pleasures of north India. Cosmopolitan Pune housewives labour over their dryfruit-laden gajar halwas in December,all for a brief chill inadequately redolent of colder climes. Expensive coats and boots brought from Delhi or abroad languish inside closets in sympathy with the steaming hot mouthfuls that are never quite as satisfying down here.
But one can happily seize upon the transient opportunity provided by these hotter times to unleash the bartender and dessert chef within. The season is ripe for retrieving those little 100-rupee cocktail recipe books distributed as return gifts at many a recent new-age winter wedding off the dusty boxes of sundae glasses (shortly to be resurrected and filled with what were all really waiting for ice-cream with chunks of Alphonso mangoes). Im looking forward to some pleasant balcony time with piquant fruit punches calculated to knock the wind out of any NDA cadets somnolent sails.
The broke,the unemployed and the juvenile,meanwhile,will persist in their unchecked consumption of Tang,telling annoyed parents the new variant is so much healthier; havent you seen the ad? Classy and complicated or simple and straightforward,the onset of summer sure brings a burst of flavours and freshness to every palate.
The author is a chess grandmaster and former national champion.