Kishan Yadav poured sattu powder into a steel pot half-filled with water and vigorously stirred the contents with a wooden ladle. He sprinkled the thickening mixture with salt, cumin powder, black pepper and a dash of lemon juice and whisked the beverage to ensure there were no lumps. Then he filled a tumbler with the pale-yellow shake, garnished it with a few onion slices and bright-green coriander leaves and handed it to me.
“Your sattu sherbet is ready,” he said with a smile.
A band of his regular patrons – cart pullers and taxi drivers – waited patiently at his roadside kiosk in Kolkata for their own glasses, priced at a modest Rs 10 (£0.11). The cooling drink is an energy powerhouse for these workers. Many of them have come to this city from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which are not only the source of a large migrant worker population but also the source of sattu in the first place.
Sattu sherbet has long been a ubiquitous health drink in India, especially popular among the working class in the Northern and Eastern zones, but it – and its main ingredient of sattu powder, made from Bengal gram (chickpeas, or other pulses and legumes) – has remained at the fringes of the urban foodscape. However, over the past couple of years, this flour has risen in popularity, tagged as an epicurean delicacy with a taste of home in upscale restaurants in Indian metropolises, where it is joining the ranks of vegan, gluten-free, so-called “superfoods” such as moringa and millet.
Still, foods made from the beloved flour have historically been consumed for their affordability versus trendiness. Yadav has been selling the sherbet at his stand for more than two decades, and as I sipped my drink, he explained the process of making sattu. Bengal grams are soaked in water, sun-dried and then roasted in a cast-iron pot filled with sand. The grams are then grinded along with the husk to form a fine, yellowish powder. Yadav said that the earthy notes of sattu are formed through this dry-roasting method, which has to be done on a wood-fired stove.