Rooh Afza, the Summer Drink of the East
On a summer day in Pakistan, things move at a leisurely pace. Offices are closed from noon to four o’clock and everything has to get done early in the morning or late at night. Lunch is a few chapattis with a spicy saalan, followed by a long nap. It’s just too hot to do anything else.
This beautiful ruby red syrup, named “the nurturer of the soul,” is made from roses and kewra, a Pandanus flower extract. Rooh Afza is the star of many summer treats. It provides a beautiful pink contrast when drizzled over top of Kulfi, a creamy-white cardamom ice cream, or mixed in with the faloodah (vermicelli noodles), or tukhmalanga (basil seeds) that top the kulfi. I can imagine someone more creative and less lazy than me using this syrup in various ways at a Valentine’s Day party or something equally as cute.
Especially during the loadshedding hours, where power is cut off in sectors of the cities to save the system from overload, everyone sits around with woven reed pankhiyaan, or “little fans” (or, as my Farat Phuppo calls them, “hand AC’s”) drinking something cold. My favorite of these cooling summer drinks is ice-cold water sweetened with Rooh Afza.
I love the taste of this syrup, so I prefer a higher proportion of syrup to water than other people may. This drink is very dependent on personal taste, and this is how I like it.
1 tbs. Rooh Afza
1 cup cold water
Pour the Rooh Afza into a shaker or pyrex glass measuring cup. Pour the cold water on top of it and stir/whisk/mix very well until the syrup is completely dissolved in the water. Fill a glass with ice and pour the Rooh Afza water on top. (Some people also add fresh lemon juice.) Enjoy!
And, as befits a culture influenced by Persians, Arabs, and Mughals, an eminent poet also wrote a poem about Rooh Afza.
‘If you look at its colour, it enchants your heart. If you taste it, you find its flavour enlivening. In fragrance it excels other flowers. In efficacy it is quite an elixir. Its refreshing and invigorating effect is beyond reckoning. A sharbat like Rooh Afza has never been produced, nor ever shall be.’ — Sa’il Dehlavi
Ramadan Rooh Afza
There’s another version of Rooh Afza that is a particular treat in Ramadan. Instead of water, the syrup is mixed with cold milk and served with spicy samosas and pakoras at Iftar, after the day’s fast. It’s probably not smart to eat spicy food after you’ve had nothing in your stomach all day, but try telling a Pakistani to eat bland food. We’ve been known to carry around bottles of Tabasco in our purses. So, the sweetness and softness of the milk gives both quick energy and a bit of cushion against the savory-spicy food. I use the same proportion of milk to Rooh Afza as with the Summer Rooh Afza.
More information about Rooh Afza
On the history and cultural effects of Rooh Afza, from Hamdard Laboratories
RoohAfza.com, featuring I *heart* Rooh Afza tshirts and mugs
100th Anniversary of Rooh Afza (created in 1907 by Hakeem Abdul Majeed)