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While the words “we’re having guests over today” mostly inspired feelings of dread and social anxiety, there was always one part of the whole ordeal that we looked forward to: the tray of little crystal bowls filled with assorted fried goods and the accompanying nimbu pani served to the guests. Now, whether these snacks and drinks were a show of hospitality for the guests or were actually bribes for us to sit in the room and socialise, we will never really know. But what we do know is that we still get excited to drink a glass of nimbu pani and other sharbats and see them as a rare special treat.
Now, we love to cook and preparing nimbu pani is in the realm of our skill set. However, more complex and flavourful sharbat recipes, such as aam panna, are out of the question. Buying all the ingredients, drying and/or fermenting fruits and vegetables and managing the perfect balance of spices – this is a challenge we do not accept.
Thankfully, we live in a world where some kind souls are willing to offer their sharbat-making services to the wider public. Today, these kind souls happen to be the folks at Masala Monk.
The Lowdown on Masala Monk
Masala Monk is not your average food brand. Just one look at their online shop will give you a sense of what we mean. They’ve got booze infused jams, homemade ginger ale, ambi mirchi bombs (green chillies stuffed with raw mango and then pickled together) and even Calcutta style dry paan.
We’re not big fans of the word “foodie”, but we’ll make an exception here. Masala Monk is a foodie’s brand.
Besides its authentic and diverse product line, another reason Masala Monk deserves the “foodie” title is its desire to build a food brand through community. While cooking is certainly a means for artistic expression, we strongly believe that food is first and foremost about sharing love with each other. Masala Monk recognises this fact and has created a community of farmers, chefs and food manufacturers to enrich its product lines.
Sun-Cooked Amla Sharbat
So you can imagine the challenge of browsing through a menu of handcrafted, locally sourced food products and picking only one item to purchase. Luckily, our inner child took control of the process and navigated us directly to the instant drink mixes in the hopes of reconnecting with some childhood memories.
Masala Monk offers a range of 18 instant drink mixes, including thandai and hot chocolate mix. While all these drink mixes were exciting and inspired our curiosity, we decided to try the amla sharbat mix. The amla sharbat mix is sun-cooked, 100% natural and, well, made with amla, which is both a nostalgic yet unfamiliar ingredient.
Of course we had to look up “sun-cooking” to confirm it wasn’t a marketing gimmick. Sun-cooking is the act of cooking food in the sun (duh!) and can be done with a solar cooker, which uses reflective panels to concentrate sunlight inside the cooker. Sun-cooking heats food evenly and is a slow-cooking method, which results in well-developed, complex flavors. We are not sure which method was used to sun-cook our amla sharbat, but the chance to try time and labor intensive cooking is an opportunity we would never pass up.
So in went the Amla Sharbat drink mix into our online shopping cart and we waited.
Masala Monk Delivers
The Amla Sharbat was hand delivered by courier to ensure the product was accepted directly and kept in the refrigerator. The glass jar was wrapped in bubble wrap and looked exactly as pictured on the Masala Monk website.
The label was colorful with a mix of English and Hindi, giving the bottle a Chumbak-esque look. The label also indicated the chef behind the sharbat, Mohit Arora. This mention gave the recipe an authentic feel and emphasized Masala Monk’s community values.
The Amla Sharbat was a thick concentrate and included spices and sugar. We hastily followed the directions on the label to mix up a glass of sharbat. Cold water, ice cubes and a tablespoon of the concoction went into a pitcher. The concentrate easily diluted into the water, but some syrup-y goodness remained on the spoon and refused to come off. We found an easy solution to this stubbornness by licking the spoon and tasting the concentrate as is.
The Amla Sharbat Taste Test
Amla is a curious ingredient. It is tangy and has floral citrus notes. It doesn’t have the gusto to be a solo artist but needs accompanying spices to bolster its flavour. The Amla Sharbat concentrate recognised the need to build a symphony of flavours around amla but kept an ethos of authenticity by adding only five additional ingredients: ginger, cumin, black salt, lemon juice and desi khand (sugar).
The resulting combination of cold water, ice cubes and amla concentrate made for a refreshing drink. We kept the glass of sharbat by our computer as we did our work and found ourselves mindlessly reaching for sips every five minutes to quench a thirst we didn’t know we had. If only we had made enough to last till the post-work, evening hours, we would have added some gin or vodka to bring a childhood drink into our adult world.
And yes, the sun-cooking did have an effect on the flavour profile. We felt that the amla flavours were more robust but mellow after the sun-cooking. We could even feel our stomach soaking up the Vitamin C and antioxidant goodness.
Our only wish was to have more control over the sugar in the sharbat. This is, of course, a difficult ask, since we don’t have desi khand at home to mix into the drink and using normal sugar or honey would take away from the authenticity. So we won’t be too picky and just be grateful that this product exists.
Our conclusion: Masala Monk is doing God’s work and we will be shopping with them again. The Amla Sharbat was a delight and, as winter rolls into our lives, Masala Monk’s handcrafted hot chocolate mix will be explored next. In addition, the pickles and gourmet spice blends are also on our radar, after we try the boozy spreads and nut butters. But that’s only if we’re not stuffing our mouth with guava churan or lemon cheesecake. And, of course, we won’t leave you in the dark and make sure to share our thoughts on the above products on this blog.