In many ways I am not a Punjabi at all. I grew up in Bombay (yes I still refuse to call it by the other name) and speak Marathi certainly better than Punjabi, I love kadi patta in everything and I love coconut based fish curry. But there are some things that really bring out the ‘punjabiness’ in me and one of these things is my favorite winter drink, kanji.
Those who don’t know of this wondrous sharp and tangy concoction are really missing out on one of the wondrous drinks Punjab has produced. Its made by mixing black carrots, red chili powder, crushed mustard seeds, salt and water. This is then fermented in the crisp winter sun for a few days till it ferments a bit and becomes sour and spicy and oh so refreshing. I have so many memories of making this during my childhood with my mother.
Many years ago when my father visited a city in the south east of Turkey, Adana, he came back super excited to tell us how you get kanji on the streets of Adana as well. I of course refused to believe him. I mean how can a drink that peculiar also be made in another country so far far away. I of course was proven wrong.
Kanji is known as Şalgam suyu (Shalgam suyu) in Turkey and come from the south east part of the country. Although the process to make it is different but its follows the intrinsically principle, take black carrots and ferment them in water till they are sour, salty and often spicy.
I still haven’t understood why they call it Şalgam suyu (Turnip juice) because it doesn’t really contain any Şalgam.
If you go to the east of the country, its available everywhere on the streets much like you get gaane ka juice in Bombay or nimbu soda in Delhi. A peculiar habit they also have is that they drink it along side the national alcoholic drink of Turkey, Rakı a clear drink which tastes of aniseed which gets cloudy once you add water to it. Now Rakı in Turkey is always served with two glasses, one in which they pour the alcohol which is topped with water and another glass which is usually filled with water. In Adana and the neighboring cities they serve Rakı with Şalgam suyu.
In the rest of the country you don’t really get it on the streets but you do get it bottled just about everywhere and they normally have it with kebabs.
Get a bottle of it the next time you are in Turkey, look for the acılı (spicy) one and enjoy it chilled with some kebabs or better still try and make it at home!