On a hot summer day the gola wala is the coolest sight in the scorching streets of Mumbai. The gola wala is the ice slush vendor. With hundreds of bottles of colourful syrups lining his cart, an ice crusher in the middle and such essentials like gola sticks, glasses and bowls, he churns out the most amazing stuff on this sizzling earth.
“Ek Kalakhatta” you say, placing your order as the gola vendor places a big lump of ice on the machine, churning out the crushed ice and gathering it into an oval ball with his hand. A proficient poke with the wooden gola stick, a dash of the purplish-black syrup from one of the colourful bottles, a squeeze of the already over-squeezed lime and a pinch of masala (a mixture of black salt, pepper and common salt) and there you are all ready to slurp the gola.
Kalakhatta is just one of the hundreds of flavours available. There are conventional fruity ones like orange and mango and newer ones like chocolate and cocktail.
Yes, as I said the gola has to be ‘slurped’ – not eaten or drunk – you have to make the loud slurrrrping noise as you suck in the sweet kalakhatta juice and feel the chill travelling through your throat to your stomach. It is very difficult to politely have a gola without the noise – you may try breaking it onto a plate and spoon it carefully into your well-mannered mouth – but I must warn you – it is not the same.
The kalakhatta syrup is made from a fruit, called Jamun or Jambul. Its scientific name is syzygium cumini and is also called the Indian blackberry or the Java plum. This is a green turned pink turned shiny black fruit which grows in bunches on large Jambul trees every summer and is said to have amazing medicinal properties. The fruit cools the system, and is very useful for digestion. A healthy fruit is oval in shape about one and a half to two inches. The slightly bitterish tasteless seed is about an inch long and is said to have insulin - generating properties and thus manage diabetes.
Enjoying a gola is a multi sensory experience. As you deftly manoeuvre your fingers on the gola stick to save it from breaking, you feel the ice and salts on ypur lips, taste the cloying sweetness of the syrup as it dilutes with the ice water in your mouth, hear the loud slurps, smell the tang of the cool gola syrup and - the colour, you cannot miss it – the deep deep violet-purple-blue colour that you can see in your fingers, lips, mouth and your spotless white shirt to tell the gola story, much after the taste has left the tongue.
After you have slurped all the coloured juice till the ice ball turns white and tasteless, you can go back to the vendor and he’ll be happy to pour some more syrup onto the bare snowball. Another pinch and squeeze and you have a repeat experience at no extra cost!
Nowadays you do get sterile golas made by people wearing gloves and using bottled safe mineral water for the ice. For the ones with a weak stomach I recommend these, which are available at Juhu Beach or some of the restaurants in the Five Star Hotels.
I am not sure if there is an equivalent of the gola in the western countries, the slush comes closest I think but it is nowhere near the thrill of experiencing this desi (Indian) gola. If there is one do let me know – I would like to experience it!