Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE BLUE LASSI SHOP, VARANASI





I was told that a visit to Varanasi will be incomplete without tasting lassi from the “Blue Lassi Shop”.

Now this is a land of lassi, practically at every street corner there is a shop selling lassi and rabri of amazing quality. I had tasted both from some of the revered shops like the Pagal Sardar Lassi shop at Vishwanath Galli and a couple of places near Godhuliya Chowk. Yet a visit to the ‘Blue Lassi’ shop was the order of the day to complete the cycle of karma of drinking lassi in the holy city. Blue Lassi shop is unique and it stands out from the rest, that was the briefing given to me and I was quite eager as not to miss out even if I had to bend few of my schedules.

Tucked away on a narrow serpentine lane branching out from the famous Kachouri Galli, and leading towards the Manikarnika Ghat, it’s almost impossible to locate the shop, had it not been for the bright paintings on the wall in blue and yellow announcing it’s existence. It’s not very far from the epicenter of Varanasi, the Godhuliya Chowk, and it’s less than 10 minutes walk from there.




The first look at the shop was rather jolting for me, as the size of the shop is nowhere near the size of reputation that precedes it. It’s a small place, with an open front where the ubiquitous steel jug and wooden stirrers are kept along with the large earthen pots containing the curd. Just beside the open space there is a low doorway to enter the shop. I tucked my head in and went into the dimly lit interior. It had no window, excepting a curtained door at the back, which I presume leads to the living quarters of the house. Even in the broad daylight it was almost dark inside and I started taking a better look as my vision slowly started getting adjusted to the darkness. True to the name the walls were painted in shade of blue, bordering on Garish, and also deep shades of green along with motifs and faces of Gods & Goddesses. But the most interesting part is the thousands of small stamp sized photos and small paper chits along with it that are pasted all over the four walls. This is an amazing array and basically these are photos of people who had visited this shop and liked their lassi. They have a custom of collecting the photos. If you like their lassi you can also share your photo which will be put up on the wall. You can also leave a small note of appreciation which will also be struck on the wall. So it was a mini world within those four walls of that small dark room. You get to see photos of people from around the world along with notes written in various languages starting from Indian languages to English, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Japanese and as far as from South American Countries. This gives you an immediate idea how popular this lassi shop is among foreigners visiting Varanasi. In fact while we were there all other customers were Europeans and a few from south east Asian countries.

 The interior of the shop with photos and notes from all over the world 

Message from Chile

In fact the there is a history attached to this shop including how this shop got it’s rather unusual name. Blue Lassi shop wasn’t ‘Blue’ even twenty years back. It was just a humble lassi shop probably known by the name of it’s owner. Some seventy five years back Pannalal Yadav, started the lassi shop on the ground floor of his house on the narrow lane leading to Manikarnika Ghat. It didn’t have any fanfare but honest to goodness quality which is being maintained till date. It was known as Pannalal Yadav’s lassi shop. Slowly the shop started gaining popularity and it was being frequented by the foreigners. Varanasi, being the holy city for Hindus and also a centre for Buddhism because of it’s proximity to Sarnath, is frequented by foreign tourists round the year and they found this shop to be a nice joint to hang out. Unlike other roadside shops in Varanasi, which also sells very good lassi, this shop has a small seating arrangement inside which could have found favour with them. May be it also had a locational advantage being right on the lane leading to famous Manikarnika Ghat. Anyway the business flourished and Pannalal Yadav had become quite a known name. There is a photograph of him hung on the rear wall of the shop. This gentleman was more than just a ‘lassiwala’ and even acted in few movies. Vijay Yadav, his son and the current owner tells us about his father’s dabbling with movies and there is a Bengali connection. His first stint before the camera was with none other than the maestro Satyajit Ray, while he was shooting ‘Joy Baba Felunath’ at Varanasi. Pannalal Yadav acted as a villain in the gang of notorious crimelord ‘Maganlal Meghraj’ made immortal by Utpal Dutt. He had further acted in ‘Sant Tulsidas’ and the Sunny Deo starrer action movie ‘Ghayel’.

Vijay Yadav, whose picture you can see here, making lassi, joined the family business some 45 years back and I guess he was pretty young at that time. Since then he had been making lassi with his own hand maintaining the same legacy of quality. His son went to college and after getting his degree he also got involved in the family business. The change came some 20 years back when a team of Korean nationals who were obviously smitten by the quality of the lassi suggested that shop should be named ‘Blue Lassi Shop’. Do not ask me why this name, even Vijay Yadav is clueless. I take a wild guess that the interior of the shop would have been painted in blue, thus the name. Anyway it acted like a lucky charm and soon the name became very popular. So much so was the Korean influence that the name ‘Blue Lassi Shop’ is written in both English and Korean on the walls. Another important thing happened at the same time. Vijay Yadav’s son did some smart thinking and with steady experimentation brought variety to the humble lassi by adding fruits and flavors. This transformed the business further and the name spread quickly for the USP they were offering. Today they sell about 90 different types of flavored lassi. Most are punched with fresh seasonal fruits (a la natural ice cream)and flavours like chocolate & strawberry.

 Vijay Yadav busy preparing lassi

Now this is being poured for serving

Garnishing done. Cocoa powder being added for chocolate flavor

We had decided to try out different flavors and orders started with chocolate and punched with fruits like strawberry, apple, banana & shredded coconut. There is no machine involved it’s still hand churned with a wooden stirrer in an aluminium pot. The quality of the curd is outstanding and thick lassi that is produced literally need to be scooped out with spoon from the earthen cup in which they are served. One such portion, though looks small, can be quite filling and enough to douse the pangs of hunger. All the flavors, punched with fresh fruits, cocoa powders, strawberry flavors tasted great. We had lassi from other places in Varanasi but this one was unique experience.

 Almost ready for serving

 The seven different flavors in all their glory

Here is the close up view

The price is bit on the steeper side, an average flavoured lassi will set you back for more than sixty rupees. But the quality and taste more than make up for the price. You can see the handwritten chit in the photograph which was given to us a bill, and this will give you an idea of the prices.

The Bill.

The environment is also unique, while having lassi, you can see, hear and feel the throbbing , pulsating spirit of Varanasi all around you. The narrow lane, jostling crowd, interlaced with cycles, motorcycles, blaring horns, the cacophony and ubiquitous bulls & cows, all will overwhelm your senses. If you wait long enough you will hear the chanting of ‘Ram Nam Satya Hai’ and dead bodies will be carried past you towards the Manikarnika, the eternal burning ghat, as you are sipping your lassi.

This is something unique which can only be experienced in Varanasi, the oldest and holiest of them all. And yes Varanasi has grown on me in just two days. I will come back here and Blue Lassi Shop shall remain on my must visit list.

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