Sneha Mary Christall, II Year M.A. English
If you frequent the Stella Canteen on a daily basis, there is probably one thing that must have caught your eye – the jigarthanda stall is now a vacant spot; only the poster with that funny-man doodle remains, and you are thrown off by the casualness of it all.
When I first tasted jigarthanda at a restaurant in Chennai, I wasn’t very taken with it. It tasted like a cross between a falooda and a kulfi. Much as I enjoy strange, new culinary delights, jigarthanda, I thought, wouldn’t be one of them. Until of course, I braved the Stella canteen crowds to revisit this vague ‘taste memory’. This time round, I opted to leave out the artificial food colouring. Somehow, this drink with a ‘cold heart’, as the name suggests, made sense. Never mind that it looked like ice cream, was served like payasam and tasted strangely like neither.
Today, this South Indian beverage is eponymous with Madurai and, come summertime, is especially in demand. It is said to have been introduced by Muslim settlers in Madurai. The name (jigar – heart, thanda – cool) suggests that the drink has its origins in North India. It is indeed a strange turn of events, that the drink is more popular in Chennai and Madurai, rather than in Lucknow, where it is said to have originated and stranger still, that its Hindi name remains. However, let it be noted that some eateries in Chennai and Madurai serve it as the ‘Jil Jil Jigarthanda’, ‘jil’ being the Tamil stand-in for the word ‘cool’.
A quick online search reveals that the drink is a simple preparation made from badam pisin (almond gum), nannari sharbat, sugar and milk cream. Some other recipes follow the use of ice cream and basundhi for that extra touch.
If your travels ever take you along the road to Madurai, be sure to taste the Famous Jigarthanda, the most popular variety of the drink in Madurai. For those of us who aren’t that fortunate, there are several eateries in Chennai that serve this humble drink. At Murugan Idli Shop, Besant Nagar, jigarthanda is always in high demand. Though slightly sweeter than you would expect, the drink is likely to have your heart (and tastebuds) in its icy grip.
In 2014, a movie of the same name was released. Jigarthanda (now in the form of a black comedy gangster film) released to great acclaim, critically and commercially. With Siddharth, Lakshmi Menon and Bobby Simha in the lead, the film splendidly presents the beauty and candour of Madurai. The film is not below taking digs at conventional cinematic formulae. By upending accepted notions of a classic Tamil film gangster, the director Karthik Subbaraj presents an altogether human villain – one who cries to win over people. Thus, Assault Kumar is rechristened as Azhuguni (Crybaby) Kumar. The fight sequences are over-the-top and comical, parodying regular hero-villain clashes in Tamil movies.
The soundtrack is eclectic, mixing together classical and more experimental beats, with the occasional koyil strain. If you follow Tamil films, enjoy Dravidian architecture, and possess that rare quality of being able to laugh at yourself, I daresay you would love the film and a tumbler of jil jil jigarthanda to go with it.
[Photograph Source: Internet]