Khimad announces Christmas for the East Indian community of Mumbai

Reinforced by spices, sugar and orange juice, the generous touch of alcohol is “almost” undetectable.

Before retroactively causing trouble to my parents, let me confess that my very first sips of alcohol, as a curious 12-year-old, were bought rather surreptitiously. A tiny sip here of the cola-like port wine while no one was watching or a drizzle there of beer and lemonade cooler in a mug left unattended weren’t really my initiators in the world of the alcohol.

This ‘honor’ I reserve for the very unique drink, a fruit punch and a hot toddy, called khimad. This orange-colored alcoholic beverage enhanced with cloves, cinnamon and cardamom made from country liqueur occupies a special place in almost every celebration of the East Indies. And although I am not an East Indian, I am surrounded by enough of them here in my house in Mumbai to make me an honorary.

East Indians have nothing to do with East India, geographically speaking. They are the first Christian inhabitants of Mumbai, speaking Marathi. Many of their ancestors worked for the old East India Company, and hence the name, also reinforced to distinguish them from the Catholics of Goa, who were Portuguese subjects at the time.

Known for their gourmet food and drink celebrations, I made it a point to be invited to each of these parties. If not to gorge myself on delicious dishes like duck moile, kuddi mutton curry or lonvas, then to savor the spicy hit of khimad. But over the years, higher studies and periods of work have taken me away from my hometown and also from the wonders of this festive drink.

It would be years later, in a faraway land, that I would sip a drink so khimad-like that all my childhood nostalgia for stealing those forbidden sips would come running back to me.

Khimad, this spicy winter punch that announces Christmas for the East Indian community of Mumbai
  • Khimad
  • (Makes 20 turnovers of 45 ml each)
  • Ingredients
  • 500 ml of water
  • 4 green cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 10 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 50 g dried orange peels
  • 1 teaspoon of loose black tea
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 300 ml of country liqueur (replace with brandy, gin or vodka)
  • 150 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Method
  • 1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, adding the spices and dried orange zest. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes.
  • 2. Add the tea, sugar and orange juice and mix well.
  • 3. Add the alcohol and allow to heat, being careful not to let the mixture boil.
  • 4. After draining, and while still hot, serve in the traditional East Indian bald shot glasses.

As easy as it is to make – with just a handful of everyday ingredients – khimad comes down the trap just as smoothly. Reinforced by all that spice, sugar and orange juice, the generous splash of alcohol is almost undetectable in this orange soda lookalike, in terms of taste. “Almost” being the key word.

Many accidents, without knowing it or not, have happened when a little too much seemingly innocuous khimad has been soaked. Khimad benders during East Indian festivities, mainly during a ritual of pouring water before marriage called “umbracha paani”, are not uncommon. The “delinquents” being mainly corpulent middle-aged uncles showing us an updated version of the naagin Dance!

Usually a winter drink, khimad is always served hot, in traditional 45ml shot glasses called chauvinistic. This is followed by raising a toast with a hoarse “soukhala”(“ To your happiness ”in Marathi), while munching on a plethora of traditional East Indian flavors and snack foods like chitaps and rice wafers called papri.

But like most community food and drink in India, no khimad recipe is alike. Our East Indian neighbors, the Gomes family, always add orange juice and zest to their khimad, avoiding astringent tea leaves. Other families do just the opposite. Avoiding the country liqueur base – which can be made from a variety of things from tadgola (palm fruit) and black jamun (Malabar plum) to sugarcane stalks and good old coconut – a lot now prefer the more neutral and, ironically, easier to- get hold of brandy, gin or vodka.

Celtic rituals

Khimad has its origins in a drink with a similar sound and taste, made far, far away. You would be forgiven for assuming, like most people, the place to be Portugal. Because, like Goa, Mumbai and its suburbs saturated with East Indian communities were once part of the powerful Portuguese domination. But strangely enough, khimad has a lot in common with the queimada of the autonomous Galician community of Spain that can be found in the northwestern region of the country. Interestingly, a place that sits just above the Spanish border with northern Portugal.

A well-watered punch (which literally means that mada or “what mead? ) Made with orujo – a grape-based alcohol distilled from the residue collected after clarifying the wine – this Galician iteration of the drink is flavored with coffee beans, lemon zest and cinnamon. This is then served in a hollowed-out pumpkin – an omen of its true ceremonial purpose.

Originally an ancient Celtic ritual, queimada is served with a dash of brandy added just at the end of the punch preparation. This is then set on fire, the alcohol contained in the cognac evoking a brilliant blue flame. This is an annual event on June 23, Midsummer Night, also known as Witches’ Night in this part of the world.

The main role queimada plays in this frightening and frightening ritual is that of an antidote potion. The one who is supposed to ward off the curses and witchcraft spells accumulated throughout the year. An antidote that is particularly powerful when a counter spell called the conxuro da queimada is cast on the flaming pumpkin.

Yes, I know how the multi-word spell is called. But no, I will not reveal it here!

The Mumbai-based restaurant writer and critic is passionate about food, travel and luxury, not necessarily in that order.

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