India is home to the best non-alcoholic beverage ever. Fresh lime soda, or nimbu-pani, is light, refreshing, delicious - and quintessentially Indian. It's even got a historical legacy - K.T. Acharya, author of the A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, claims that it was ""the supreme quencher of colonial thirst" in India. Forget those brand name sodas or mango juice - fresh lime was here first. It's easy to make, tasty - and it continues to be the everyday beverage of choice.
One sip and you can understand why. The drink is a peculiar blend of tart and luscious, sweet and salty - and if you get it with soda, fizzy and smooth. Don't be fooled by the simple title either - there's a great deal of choice in how one orders a fresh lime. Are you a salty or sweet drinker - do you dare to mix both? Or are you such a devoted drinker that you can handle it with sulfuric black salt or chili powder? Would you take it with soda or straight water? And of course, ice or no ice? I'm a "soda, salty sweet with black salt please, no-ice" fresh lime connoisseur myself.
Fresh lime virgins may liken the drink to American lemonade - but the metaphor doesn't do this beverage justice. Lemonade is overpoweringly sweet and invokes images of Grandma's front porch and a plate of country cookies. The fresh lime is subtle and sophisticated - teasing your tastebuds. And in pairings, it's remarkably versatile. You can take it alone as a non-alcoholic aperitif in an elegant high glass, or straight out of a plastic disposable as you eat idli off of a banana leaf.
One thing's for sure - while the drink has been around a long time on the subcontinent, I've never seen it served up elsewhere. I think it's time for a little culinary exportation. . . For anyone interested, here's a recipe:
2 tbsp. simple syrup (made by first boiling together equal parts sugar and water,
then letting it cool)
1 1⁄2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (persian limes work best)
3⁄4 cup soda water
1/2 tbsp. salt
1. Fill a glass with ice cubes, then add simple syrup and lime juice. Add soda water and salt. Stir well, then serve garnished with a lime slice, if you like.