Walk around the streets of Madurai for just a little while, and it becomes absolutely clear just how popular jigarthanda is in the city. Every nook and corner has a jigarthanda shop, some boasting of ‘unique taste’. Some shops have locals and tourists alike milling around, while some are empty. As we take this all in, the husband and I decide to try out the jigarthanda at a few different places.
What is this jigarthanda, you ask? It is a drink made of milk and badam pisin, flavoured with either rose syrup or sarsaparilla (nannari) extract, served with a scoop of locally made, fresh ice cream. Sometimes, it also comes topped with tutti-frooti or dry fruits. It is the South Indian version of falooda, if you may.
The name of the drink literally translates to ‘heart cooler’ (‘jigar‘ means ‘Heart’ in Hindi, while ‘thanda‘ means ‘Cool’). The drink is actually supposed to possess great health benefits, is believed to help cool down body heat and aid in the healing of several ailments – all this while being pleasing to the tongue.
But what is a drink with a name like ‘jigarthanda‘ doing in a typically South Indian temple town like Madurai? Where did it come from? No one knows for sure. Some believe that the drink was made popular by the Mughal rulers, that its popularity trickled down South, and it found a home in Madurai. Some others believe that Muslim settlers from Hyderabad brought the drink to Madurai in the 1700s. Some believe that it was a Muslim ice cream maker in Madurai who first invented this drink. Such legends about the origin of the jigarthanda are many, but there seems to be no doubt about one thing – Madurai is the best place to have this drink. Today, Madurai is almost synonymous with jigarthanda, in spite of the drink being available at quite a few places across South India.
Let me tell you about the few places in Madurai that we chose to try out the jil jil jigarthanda, as the locals call it.
Sastha’s, near the Meenakshi Amman temple
We discovered Sasta’s on our first day in Madurai, walking around the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. The place seemed nice and clean and decent, so we asked for a glass of jigarthanda.
The drink had a lovely taste here, and felt like manna to our parched throats. It was cool and milky, and had just the right amount of the sticky badam pisin in it. We particularly loved the malai ice cream that the drink came topped with.
This jigarthanda was far, far, far better than the version I had once, at a street-side shop in Trichy.
Murugan Idli Shop, near the Meenakshi Amman temple
We had heard that the jigarthanda at the famous Murugan Idli Shop in Madurai was lovely, so that was where we headed to for our next sampling of the drink. We chose a ‘Special Jigarthanda‘ here.
Sadly, though, this jigarthanda wasn’t the mind-blowing thing we had expected it to be. The taste was just okay, and there was way too much pisin and tutti-frooti in the drink for our liking. Probably, we should have just asked for a ‘regular’ version.
Famous Jigarthanda Shop, East Marret Street
Located on the busy East Marret Street in Madurai, the Famous Jigarthanda Shop is one of the oldest outlets in the city selling the drink. The jigarthanda here is believed to be the best in Madurai, and I am glad we managed to visit it – we were almost going to give it a miss, due to paucity of time.
People say that Famous has been maintaining consistent quality and taste in its jigarthanda, ever since the shop came into existence in 1977. There’s only one item on the menu here – jigarthanda – and that is enough to attract people in droves. We visited the shop at about 11 AM on a weekend, and it was buzzing like a beehive!
The jigarthanda here was simply awesome, truly the best out of all those we had tried thus far. Unlike other places, this jigarthanda had a lovely brown colour and a rich, beautiful taste to it. I hear Famous adds basundi – made using a secret recipe – to its jigarthanda, and that is what gives the drink its gorgeous colour and flavour.
Some say Famous was the inventor of the jigarthanda, the shop that brought the drink to Madurai first of all. Whatever legends might say, this is, unarguably, one of the best jigarthanda I have ever had. Don’t miss this place, if you ever visit Madurai, I urge you!
And that was the end of our jigarthanda sampling trail in Madurai, if you could call it that. Trying authentic jigarthanda in Madurai is now finally, officially crossed off my bucket list!
Have you tried jigarthanda, ever? How did you like it?
Which is the best place you have had this drink?