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Drink of Persia: Falooda in South Asia and beyond
Falooda isn’t widely outside of South Asia, but within the South Asian subcontinent, people can't get enough of it. Falooda is a sweet, often milky drink flavored with syrup and filled with vermicelli noodles. It comes in a variety of flavors--saffron, mango, fig, chocolate--but is most often flavored with rosewater syrup.
The vermicelli noodles are indispensable, providing a textural contrast to the drink itself. Like basil-seed drinks or bubble tea, the joy of falooda lies in the variety of textures within the drink. Vendors throughout South Asia and the Middle East sell falooda from beach stalls and in restaurants. Given its cool, refreshing taste, it is a popular summertime drink.
Falooda, faluda, faloodeh
Falooda, sometimes known as faluda, is based upon faloodeh, a dessert popular in Iran, Pakistan, North India, and Bangladesh. This dessert, a cold noodle dish made of vermicelli noodles drizzled in sugar-rosewater syrup and lime juice, is one of the earliest recorded cold desserts. Ice gathered from mountaintops would be stored in underground rooms, allowing the dessert to retain its coldness. Today, faloodeh is sold in ice cream shops around Iran as well as all over South Asia.
Falooda arose in the Mughal period circa the mid-16th century. Faloodeh was watered down with milk or water or cream, and it became a drink in its own right. Falooda spread across the Indian subcontinent and eventually made its way through all of South Asia, becoming a part of the culinary fabric of the area. When the temperature rises--as it is wont to do in South Asia--falooda becomes readily available.
Falooda is so entrenched in the culture of South Asia that it is referenced in idiom. In Hindustani, the language of North India and Pakistan, calling something falooda is saying that it is shredded. This image alludes to the vermicelli noodles mixed within the drink.
Falooda has even had a shout-out in a English-language rap song. Das Racist's "You Can Sell Anything" references both kulfi and falooda. In a previous interview, the Indian rapper was asked whether he preferred ice cream or kulfi. He said, "Isn’t kulfi just ice cream? Why segregate? That said… kulfi, with faluda. All day."
A visual recipe for falooda kulfi--with subtitles!
So what's in falooda?
Falooda is a mixture of things, although a few ingredients remain the same from region to region. The falooda base is either water, milk, or ice cream. In India, for example, kulfi may be used as the base. This ice cream-like dessert is dense and creamy, creating a frothier falooda more like a milkshake.
Vermicelli noodles are always a part of falooda. Noodles may be made of either arrowroot or wheat, although arrowroot noodles are more common than wheat noodles. Many people opt to buy pre-made falooda noodles. In Indian grocery stores, these noodles are known as falooda sev.
Some places add basil seeds to their falooda. When added to a liquid, these seeds swell up. The outer covering of the seed becomes jellylike, while the seed itself, a black dot suspended into a clear gel, remains crunchy. As with the noodles, these basil seeds not only add flavor; they add textural contrast.
Here are ready-made drink mixes for your own falooda at home. Just pour, mix, and enjoy.
Falooda flavors and variants
Syrup made from rosewater is a traditional mix-in for falooda. In the South Asia subcontinent and especially the Middle East, rosewater is common dessert flavor. It’s light and floral, which lends itself well to refreshing nature of falooda. But rosewater syrup isn’t the only falooda flavor. Other popular flavors include saffron, mango, chocolate, and fig.
Indian and Pakistani faloodas tend to be prepared as a dessert to be eaten after dinner. They’re made with boiled sweet basil and milk, with the end result resembling an ice cream float. The Iraqi version is similar, but with thicker noodles floating in the drink.
One special type of falooda called the “Andrea” is a mixture of sweet rose syrups and premature tapioca pearls stirred into milk. In Bangladesh, the southern coast has its own unique style of falooda in which black tea is stirred into the drink to add a bold tea flavor. Coconut, mango, and pandan leaves--an ingredient used in jasmine rice that gives it an herbal smell--are also stirred in.
Show Me the Curry shares their recipe for falooda
Make your own falooda
Although falooda is readily available on street corners in South Asia, it is more difficult to obtain in the United States. For those dying to try some falooda, here are some recipes to make it at home. For harder-to-find ingredients, check your local Indian or Middle Eastern grocery. Either should be able to help you find what you're looking for.
- Here is a recipe for falooda on TarlaDalal, an Indian food site. It uses pre-made noodles and rosewater.
- Taste Bud Delight, a food blog, offers up this recipe. This version of falooda uses pistachio-flavored milk. It also uses the falooda sev.
- If you can't find falooda sev or just want to make your own noodles, here is a recipe for the noodles on food blog Shital's-Kitchen.