The ancient city of Madurai is famous for its temples (Madurai Meenakshi and two Arupadaiveedu of Lord Murugan namely Thiruparankundram and Pazhamudircholai), art, culture, literature, different kinds of biryani and of course, the legendary jil jil jigarthanda! Jigarthanda is derived from the words jigar meaning heart and thanda meaning cold and so roughly means heart cooler or cool heart.
Locals have different views on the origin of Madurai’s most favourite roadside drink. Some say that it bares similarities to a drink mentioned in the book Ain-i-Akbari that was served during the Mughal period. Some feel that it was invented by locals to help the Mughals who had settled down in this region. Some opine that the jigarthanda must have come from the people of Hyderabad who had the practice of bringing their own kitchen staff wherever they went. Another theory is that as kadal paasi (marine algae) is used to prepare this drink, it was essentially a nutritional drink meant for seafarers.
Locals and tourists flock to the shop established by P.S Sheik Meeran from Aaraampannai village near Tirunelveli located on the busy East Marret Street to sample their acclaimed jigarthanda. P.S Sheik Meeran started off selling ice creams made of milk, sugar and vanilla essence. His ice cream became much sought-after and was fondly called Bhai ice cream. He then began selling jigarthanda in his push cart in the evening and the rest as they say is history. What makes their jigarthanda different from the others sold in this city is the addition of basundi.
The main ingredients to prepare this delicious drink are badam pisin (almond gum), nannari sherbet (Indian sarsaparilla), sugar, cream, ice cream and basundi. The day begins early for those in this business. Fresh milk is boiled and cooled, cream is set aside and ice cream is made by hand. Badam pisin is left to soak overnight to remove all impurities. The root of nannari is boiled and mixed with sugar to prepare the sherbet.
The city of Madurai is renowned for its high food standard and it is quite unsurprising that almost every resident of this city can whip up his or her own version of this unique concoction. Not many people are aware that the jigarthanda not only cools the body but is also an aphrodisiac.
This sinfully rich drink is unbelievably flavoursome and full of surprises from start to finish. Jigarthanda is made in several cities across India but the real deal is available only in the temple town of Madurai.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)