New Year’s Milk Shake

Faluda

Faludeh in Iran is a frozen dessert of wheat-starch noodles in a rose-scented syrup. Faluda in northern India is a dish of kulfi (rich ice cream) and wheat-starch noodles. Faluda in Bombay is a glorious milk-shakey affair in a tall glass. At the bottom, there’s a layer of soaked basil (Ocimum basilicum) seeds, tukhmuriya ni biya, with a slippery-crunchy texture that’s like nothing else. On top of the tukhmuriya ni biya is a layer of translucent noodles made of wheat starch. Both of these layers are seen through intense pink rose syrup, although amber-colored saffron syrup is an option. Milk appears to float over this foundation without disturbing it. For extra luxury, there might be a scoop of vanilla ice cream or kulfi. To eat the faluda, you stir everything up with a long spoon.

Faluda is supposed to be eaten on March 21, Navroz, the old Persian New Year’s Day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it or eat it for the remaining 364 days. The best places to find faluda outside someone’s house is in Bombay’s beloved Irani-run restaurants, often named after British or Iranian royals. (Iranis are Zoroastrians who left Persia for India in the late nineteenth century, many of them starting up restaurants and bakeries that are still flourishing concerns run by the descendants of the founders.) Rustom Jeejeebhoy, fountainhead of Parsi lore, used to tantalize me by describing the delights of his favorite Irani restaurant, the King Victoria, hidden away on the edges of the mill district, but he never found himself able to take me there or even come up with the address. “Look, dear, I just haven’t got the time now. We’ll go, we’ll go . . .”

To make faluda worthy of the King Victoria in the United States you need two common things, milk and ice cream, and two slightly more esoteric items, rose syrup and basil seeds. I leave out the wheat-starch noodles because it’s more fun to crunch seeds. Rose syrup can be found in Indian or Middle Eastern groceries. I suggest the Middle Eastern brands, for a truer rose flavor. For total extravagance, look for exquisite organic rose syrup from Italy. Read the labels to make sure you’re not getting an entirely synthetic product. The basil seeds come from Indian or Southeast Asian markets. Buy the Southeast Asian ones; the Indian basil seeds are often sandy. For more information, see the Glossary.

At the Chez Panisse March 21 dinners, we serve faluda in small glasses as a dessert drink. Instead of ice cream we use ice milk, which keeps things refreshing.

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon basil seeds
  • 2 cups (or more) water
  • 3 cups (about) chilled whole milk or half-and-half
  • ½ cup (about) rose syrup
  • ½ cup (about) vanilla ice cream or ice milk

Method

  • Soak the seeds in the water for 1 to 3 hours. A tablespoon doesn’t seem like much, but the seeds swell up enormously.
  • Line up your glasses, tall or short. First put a spoonful of soaked seeds in the bottom of each glass, 2 teaspoons or so for small glasses, 1 to 2 tablespoons for tall glasses. Then pour in the milk to within an inch of the top of the glass. Follow that with 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons of rose syrup, depending on the sweetness of the rose syrup, the size of the glass, and your taste. It doesn’t seem likely, but specific gravity will cause the syrup to sink below the milk in a neat band. If you do it the other way around, the syrup and milk get mixed and the dramatic banded effect is lost. Last, put a little ice cream in every glass.
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