As a little girl, my summers were spent visiting family in India. During the evenings, I'd wander the narrow streets while rickshas skirted corners, street vendors displayed trinkets of colorful toys and batik print shirts, and the aroma of cinnamon, sugarcane, and spiced masala peanuts stirred my appetite.The temperatures were hot even though it was monsoon season. My cousins convinced me to experience the local culture of Mumbai and encouraged me to drink a tall glass of ice-cold lassi.
Lassi is a drink that blends yogurt, water, and sugar. Depending on preference, lassi can be sweet or tart. It is the Indian version of an ice-cold shake. I had variations of lassi – with mangoes, salt, sugar, ginger, or coriander leaves. It is a staple in India, especially in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, and people often find fresh lassi at train stations and on various Indian streets. Many Indian families make yogurt from scratch at home.
Phoenicians don't need to travel to India to sample lassi. Most Indian restaurants serve their own. Here are a few great places to sample lassi as the heat gets going this summer.
18631 North 19th Avenue, #150
You may roll your eyes at the styrofoam cups, but Om Bistro's lassi brings real flavor There are two options, mango lassi and sweet lassi. The mango lassi has a touch of tang, but isn't overly sweet. A froth forms with small bubbles. Om Bistro's lassi doesn't focus on aesthetics. What you see is what you get. With the sweet lassi, be prepared for a bit of a honey-like rush, as the main ingredients are yogurt and sugar. The other fact that makes Om Bistro's lassis appealing is the price — $2.49, hard to resist. Service is quick. Grab some spicy chaat, indulge in a lassi, and linger.
4720 East Cactus Road
Marigold Maison caters to an upscale crowd, and its lassi reflects this. Although the online menu advertises that both masala and mango lassis are available, an in-person visit reveals a single option: mango. It is garnished with a toothpick of mini-mangoes, almost like a daiquiri. The yogurt and mango are blended together well, with a subtly sour taste. Marigold's lassi has a homemade quality to it, but that doesn't mean chunks of mango get stuck in your teeth. It is seamless, but you pay a premium, as lassi costs more than $6 (with tip).
New India Gate
4939 West Ray Road #1, Chandler
There is a risk in trying mango lassi. The puree can overpower the yogurt and dilute the tang of a traditional lassi. New India owners and brothers, Pardip and Gopi Singh don't have this problem. The brothers buy local and fresh. New India Gate's lassi tastes fresh, the swirl of orange puree and yogurt mixed together for a milkshake consistency. Don't skip the lassi if you are in for a meal. Lassi will complement the chicken tikka, samosas, and the saag paneer nicely. A $2.99 price tag is a bargain for the portion size and freshness.
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8140 North Hayden Road, #H-115, Scottsdale
If you are looking to engage in a taste test of sweet, mango, and plain lassi options, Tandoori Times is for you. Most places have mango lassi, but typically don't offer plain lassi, a staple in India. After sitting for at least 20 minutes at the bar, I was told they needed to make a fresh batch. I appreciated the honesty and freshness. The plain lassi reminded me of my childhood, when my mom churned yogurt in our Texas home. Not too tangy, it was clear the yogurt wasn't over-fermented. The sweet lassi showed evidence of fresh churning; the bubbles were foaming at the top and had a light quality. Mango lassi isn't as successful here. Canned mango puree makes the drink too sweet, spoiling the yogurt's freshness. The price for all three added up to under $11, but I'd pass on the mango lassi and opt for the sweet or plain versions.
Mint Indian Cuisine
8752 East Shea Boulevard, #C11, Scottsdale
Mint Indian Cuisine features a mango and sweet lassi. The mango lassi has an orange-yellow glow similar to others in town. There is one main difference — this blend is quite tart and leaves an aftertaste that dries out the palate. The tang is so strong and somewhat overpowering, so don't opt for this lassi unless you're into tartness. The second version, the sweet, uses sugar to dilute the tang. A little too much sugar. These lassis were fine in consistency, but fail on the whole purpose of the drink — the yin and yang of sweet in sour in some degree of balance. At less than $3, lassi here is cheap.