In defence of RoohAfza, the rosy nightmare of our childhood
A dementor’s kewada kiss or the ambrosia of the gods?
When I was around 6, I lived in a building with a very special ‘downstairs neighbour’. On the ground floor resided Mr Mahmood. The friendly elderly gentleman and his wife had a deep love for the colours red and pink — and every hue in between. It translated into every aspect of their home. From the reddish light bulb over their front door to the light pink walls of the living room. The deep red sofa cushions to Mrs Mahmood’s blushing cheeks. You’d always get a whiff of rose attar when you walked past their front door, perennially ajar. Every evening, before the neighbourhood kids returned home after playtime, Mrs Mahmood would come out with a tray of refreshments matching their rosy disposition – a jug of chilled RoohAfza.
For some, RoohAfza is like a dementor’s kewada-flavoured kiss, for others, it’s the ambrosia of the gods. The latter will talk about it as an Unani medicinal creation by Hakim Abdul Majeed in 1907 – which later turned into Hamdard Laboratories. Packed in this crimson syrup is the goodness of herbs, fruits, flowers, vegetables and roots. The bubbly and ‘toxic’ Campa Cola would be set aside for a safer, natural and traditional glass of RoohAfza for the kids. As if each sip would exorcise Western influences from our soul. You see, the name itself allegedly means soul refresher or soother, and all aunty and uncle Mahmood wanted, at the end of the day, was to ctrl+alt+delete our bell-bottoms and streaked hair. Rock music? Tauba, another round of RoohAfza for you.
For us, RoohAfza was a special kind of collective trauma. The sugary-sweet liquid potpourri that we glugged down when visiting family, friends and neighbours out of sheer politeness. It’s given a generation of Indians a chill in the spine, the mention of the word sharbat triggering flashbacks.
But RoohAfza also was the multitasking, cost-effective treat on every good day, and bad. Especially in middle-class North Indian families, like the one I grew up in. On a good day, it would play Holi in a glass of milk, sabja seeds and vermicelli noodles, a homemade falooda for when you topped a school exam. In the peak of summer, we’d cool down with cold showers and colder glasses of RoohAfza. If you felt a heat stroke coming, why drive up the electricity bill by turning on the air conditioner? Just knock a RoohAfza back instead. The logic was sound in the minds of the adults.
Despite this bipolar nostalgia and well… that taste, RoohAfza continues to be sold by the bucketful. Even now, when you crack open the yellow cap of the glass bottle, you can hear the screams of Indian children being forced to drink it trapped within the rose-tinted syrup. It has endured through the waves of colas and soft drinks flooding the corner shops and supermarkets. Held down the fort against canned alcoholic beverages, pulpy juices, chewy gelatinous drinks and more. Because every sip of this ground-up flower bouquet in a bottle reminds you of simpler times.
As psychologist Valentina Stoycheva points out, “Objects of nostalgia serve as vehicles for connecting with our former selves and affective states that we yearn for. They provide a direct link to the emotions we are seeking to experience in real-time. They also help soothe us and regulate the negative emotions we may be experiencing (sadness, loneliness, fear).”
We streamed our old favourite shows, re-read feel-good books and ate our emotions. It’s the same yearning that has me reconsidering my antagonistic position on RoohAfza, coming out in its defence. In the spirit of all things improved, I say we give RoohAfza another chance too. Instead of a drizzle in water or milk, we need to get a bit more creative and harness the flavours of this pink concentrate instead of letting them overwhelm us. Though I won’t go as far as RoohAfza Maggi. Some things are sacred.
So try out these recipes and tell me you aren’t instantly transported back to your parent’s dining table on a warm summer’s day. School’s over, homework is done and mom is smiling at you while the aroma of rose and kewada fills the air.
PS. You can adjust the quantity of RoohAfza to start off this new love affair slow.
5 recipes that will change your mind about RoohAfza
RoohAfza Rose Mojito by Chef Kunal Kapur
- 4-5 tbsp RoohAfza
- 2 lemons
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of black salt or kala namak
- A pinch of pepper powder
- A handful of mint leaves
- 2 tbsp soaked chia or basil/sabja seeds
- Plain soda water (chilled)
1. In a large pitcher, squeeze lemons. Add salt, black salt, RoohAfza, pepper powder, mint leaves and ice cubes.
2. Add the soaked and bloomed chia seeds. You can also use sabja or basil seeds instead of chia seeds.
3. Top it up with chilled soda water. Stir and serve immediately.
Eggless RoohAfza Milk Pudding by Soniya’s Tasty World
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp agar agar powder
- 3 tbsp RoohAfza
1. Heat the milk on the stove. Add the sugar, RoohAfza and agar agar powder and stir well.
2. Cook it for 6-8 minutes on medium flame. Stir as it starts bubbling.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl of choice and place it in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours to set.
‘Jashan e Mohabbat’ RoohAfza Kulfi and Pink Jalebi by Devina Malhotra Chadha
For the kulfi
- 1 litre of milk
- 1 cup condensed milk
- 2 tbsp milk powder
- 1 tbsp elaichi powder
- A pinch of kesar soaked in 2 tbsp milk
- 1 cup fresh cream
- 1 tbsp cornflour mixed in 3-4 tbsp water
- 1 cup RoohAfza
- Popsicle or kulfi moulds
- Ground-up pista and badam (optional)
1. Boil the milk until it reduces to half. Add the condensed milk, milk powder and elaichi powder, one by one.
2. Stir in the soaked kesar mix. Add the fresh cream and cornflour mix, stir well.
3. Add coarsely ground pista-badam mix (optional) and stir well till mixture turns slightly thick. Finally, add one cup of RoohAfza and let it cool.
4. You can garnish the cooled mixture with dry rose petals before adding it to the popsicle/kulfi moulds.
5. Let it sit for 5-6 hours to chill.
For the jalebi
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup RoohAfza
- 1 tbsp curd
- 4 tbsp flour or maida
- 1 tbsp rice flour
- 1/2 cup of beetroot juice
1. Add sugar to a pan and boil it along with 1 cup of water. Then add the RoohAfza to the mix.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the maida, rice flour, curd and beetroot juice, and mix well. You can also replace the juice with regular water.
3. Add the first mixture to this second bowl, then transfer to a piping bottle or use an old squeezable sauce bottle.
4. In hot ghee, make your circular jalebi rolls and fry them on each side until they turn deep pink in colour.
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RoohAfza and Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies by Hetal Vasavada
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
RoohAfza strawberry jam
- 1 tsp RoohAfza syrup
- 2 tbsp seedless strawberry jam
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 2 tsp water
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt. Set aside
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until pale, white and fluffy. This will take about three minutes. Add vanilla and heavy cream, then mix until well incorporated. Using a spatula, mix in the dry ingredients until you have a dough.
4. Take a tablespoon and a half amount of dough and roll it into a ball. Place all your cookie dough balls onto the parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Use the back of a 1/4 tsp or your thumb to press the middle of each dough ball down to create an indentation.
5. In a small bowl, mix together RoohAfza syrup and strawberry jam. Pipe or spoon the jam into each cookie indentation.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, don’t let the cookies brown too much.
7. While the cookies are cooling, make the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, lime juice, and water until smooth. Spoon the icing into a piping bag or a sandwich bag. Cut off a small tip and pipe the icing onto the cookies. Let the icing set for 15 minutes before placing it in an airtight container to store for up to two weeks.
Rosy Champagne by Witchy Kitchen
Rose and lemon simple syrup
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup RoohAfza syrup (Hamdard brand)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons rose water
- 2 tbsp rose and lemon simple syrup
- 1 cup dry champagne
- Thinly sliced lemon to garnish
1. For the simple syrup: combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and gently stir to dissolve all sugar. Allow to cool, strain, and chill.
2. Put two tablespoons of the simple syrup in a glass, and top with champagne. Garnish with lemon slices.