Discovering falooda

by Sarah on March 2, 2012

falooda, Indian style with basil seeds and vermicelli

If a street vendor asked me two years ago “Hey, want a falooda?” I’d have no idea what they were talking about and might even think them audacious. What would you say if someone asked you?

Now I know the answer is a hearty “Yes!”, especially during the slow burn of summer.

cookie man

hummus abu hassan, aka Eli caravan

Hummus Abu Hassan (also known as Eli Caravan)

My first encounter with this icy drink was on a food tour in Jaffa last July, a welcome respite from the tenacious heat. I made a cursory stop at Abu Hassan, where hummus aficionados gather for their daily swipe; pita dipped in warm, smooth hummus with lemony olive oil sauce. With no time to dawdle I ordered a small tub and walked to find the cookie man in his modest one window outpost.  There’s a handwritten sign painted on a wall a few meters away. Home Cookies it says, but most of the clients come by word of mouth (thanks Ariella for telling me about this great bakery!).

cookie man sign on hatsedef

The cookie man is located on Hatsedef Street, close to Abu Hassan's hummus (the sign can be seen from there)

jaffa, near the cookie man

Despite the crowds at Abu Hassan the side street near the cookie man is almost empty

As I approached he plied me with tehina shortbreads, as rich as halva, with the same intense sesame flavor.  But it is the savory rings called ka’ak that are my favorite.  Perfumed with the mahlab, the ground pit of the St. Lucie cherry, these airy masterpieces are how his Syrian mother made them.

graffiti and abulafia bread, jaffa

Graffiti and bread at Abulafia

I bid him goodbye and made my way to another famous bakery, Abulafia on Yefet Street to buy fresh pita, puffs of steam still rising from them.  Meandering in the noonday heat laden with hummus, cookies and pita turned me into a lethargic s schlump.  I passed a few mom and pop shops and hesitated for a moment, enticed by the cool milk puddings in the showcase. It was then I noticed a waist high aluminum canister and was curious to know what it was.

falooda in jaffa, Persian style

 “Falooda”,said the vendor “Falooda?” I asked. “You drink it” he responded, gesturing with his hand. “I’ll take one” I said.

For the uninitiated, it is a rosewater slurpy with small pieces vermicelli noodles suspended within it. To me this made as much sense as chicken soup with marshmallows, an exotic and completely new combination. Aside from the strange sensation of the noodles slipping down my throat, the drink was surprisingly refreshing, in a brain freeze kind of way. I became a falooda fan.

ramle souk, Ramla market, Israel

Ramle Market on a slow Monday

Fast forward a couple of months, I made another discovery with the help of fellow food bloggers while exploring the Indian grocery stores at Ramle Souk (check out Katherine Martinelli’s wonderful post of our adventures).  At Maharaja, right opposite the souk, Liz zoomed in on a few unidentified spices, what at first looked to me like black sesame seeds.  The clerk told us the grains were used for falooda, though I didn’t know how this was connected. Later Liz did her own researched and informed me we had bought basil seeds, an ingredient for an Indian version of falooda.

basil seeds, first put in water and after 30 minutes

Variations:

Indian falooda is often made with arrow root starch noodles and not rice vermicelli as I use here. Plantago seeds can be substituted for basil seeds. In Taiwan they have bubble tea, which may not be a direct derivative of falooda but is certainly reminiscent of it. Instead of basil seeds tapioca pearls are used with green tea flavoring being the most popular.

 falooda, Indian

Strawberry Falooda

To avoid the bright artificial rose syrup I decided to use strawberries instead, not a traditional ingredient. The basil seeds do not have a distinct flavor but add an interesting textual dimension. While the drink was a hit with my family everyone asked “What’s up with the noodles?”

2 teaspoons of basil seeds

1 small basket of strawberries

2-3 tablespoons honey or sugar

½ cup vermicelli, broken into small pieces

1 ½  cups milk

2 teaspoons of rose water (use more or less depending on the strength of the brand used)

2 scoops vanilla ice cream (optional, I didn’t have this but it is a popular addition)

½ cup heavy cream (whipping cream)

¼ cup roughly ground almonds or pistachios

Put the basil seeds in a small bowl and cover with water for about ½ hour. They should expand and look a bit like fish or frog eggs (at least to me).

Wash the strawberries. Remove the stems and discard blemished and bruised fruit. Chop the strawberries into 2-3 pieces and place them in a small pot. Heat on low with the cover off.  Cook until the strawberries soften into a soft mass and add 1-2 tablespoon of sugar or honey and mix. Continue to heat until most of the moisture has evaporated. Strain the strawberry pulp, reserving the syrup. When cool, add 1 teaspoon of rosewater syrup.

Meanwhile boil water in a small pot. Add the vermicelli and cook until soft (according to package directions). Drain and set aside.

Mix the milk with the honey (or sugar), 1/3 of the strawberry syrup and the remaining teaspoon of rose water. Add the noodles and ice cream.  Mix to combine.

Combine the cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey and whip until peaks are formed.

Assemble the drink:

Divide the remaining strawberry syrup into two tall glasses or three smaller ones. Top with the milk mixture, pouring slowly to keep the layers separate. Gently spoon the plumped up basil seeds on top. Garnish with whipped cream and nuts. Serve immediately.

 

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa March 2, 2012 at 7:06 am

What a fabulous drink! Really interesting and so unique. A delight, I’m sure.

Thanks for the wonderful pictures.

Cheers,

Rosa

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Sarah March 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Thanks Rosa!

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Yael the Finn March 2, 2012 at 7:08 am

What an interesting drink Sarah! It looks so tempting in your pictures!

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chinmayie @ love food eat March 2, 2012 at 7:36 am

Though I am not a fan of Falooda so much you post made me want to give it one more shot. It’s summer here and anything cool sounds tempting :)

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Liz March 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Haven’t gotten a chance to try out the seeds yet, but I like your idea of pairing it with iced tea, Asian bubble-tea style. BTW, beautiful Jaffa photos. Hadn’t noticed that Abulafia sells falooda.

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Sarah March 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Liz, The falooda isn’t right at Abulafia but 1 or 2 stores down in the direction of Dr. Shaksuka if I remember correctly (close to where they sell malabi). The cannister is right on the sidewalk so its hard to miss. Looking forward to see what you do with the basil seeds.

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sherry March 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sounds amazing but where do I get basil seeds or plantago? can I try tapioca? And how long would they soak. I can get that. I am in America. I love your photos!

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Sarah March 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Sherry, Thanks, I would try at an Indian or Persian food store. I am not sure if basil seeds bought at a plant nursery would be ok (perhaps they are treated with chemicals and should not be eaten)

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Eha March 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

What a temptation and a wonderful lesson! I only knew of the Indian falooda! And thanks again for those wonderful photos of a land half-way around the world from me :) !

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Sally - My Custard Pie March 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Extraordinary pictures this time. Love the man shaking the dog’s paw and the graffiti. I didn’t know anything about fallooda before this either.

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Sarah March 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Thanks Sally, While I was buying cookies the little dog walked down the road and jumped on the stoop like he was waiting for the man all along. It was rather cute.

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Yael March 3, 2012 at 2:24 am

Hi
Finally I’m back to my laptop. Great post. I must confess that although we’ve been to India more than 6 weeks we’ve never encountered such a beverage, but in Singapore there is some Malaysian version with noodles. You know me, I thought it was disgusting. Love your photography!

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Sarah March 3, 2012 at 6:44 am

Yael, Thanks! If I left the rosewater and noodles out you would have liked it I think.

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Katherine Martinelli March 3, 2012 at 6:26 am

So that’s what you guys bought! I’m glad you solved the mystery :-) I have yet to try falooda but I’ll have to seek it out. Bubble tea freaks me out, but I think the smaller pearls might be more appetizing to me. As always your photos are gorgeous! I especially love the one at the top of the man peeking through the cookie window.

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Sarah March 3, 2012 at 6:45 am

Thanks Katherine, I didn’t even notice the seeds at first but I am glad I bought them. Never had bubble tea, the balls in there are huge compared to the basil seeds, not something to slurp through a straw. I wonder if they get mushy when they sit in liquid for awhile.

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Sarah March 5, 2012 at 10:56 am

Thanks Katherine, Have you tried bubble tea before?

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Sara{OneTribeGourmet} March 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Sara, I love falooda! My mom makes it with kulfi, rice noodles, basil seeds, milk, pistachios and an Indian rose water syrup called Rooh Afzah. I loved how you used strawberries for the syurp! Yum!

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Sarah March 3, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Thanks Sara! I didn’t have rooh afzah while making falooda so opted for the stawberries for color and flavor. Did she also add cardamom to the mix?

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Faye March 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Your falooda is so beautiful and looks much more delicious than any falooda I’ve had. I had it in Yafo and also in Persian and Indian restaurants in Los Angeles. At a Sri Lankan restaurant they had it with the basil seeds. They were good too but more like slushy rosewater sorbet with the noodles (and sometimes with ice cream if you wanted) but not with cream or milk and I very much doubt that there was fresh fruit. Bravo to you!

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Sarah March 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Thanks Faye for telling me about the international falooda variations. I somehow missed falooda completely until recently. Glad I discovered this wonderful drink.

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Faye March 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I think bubble tea is very different. You do slurp the tapioca balls through a straw but they have to give you a special big straw in order for you to do it. The bubbles are sort of chewy. When I’ve had it the tea has been rich and creamy and very good and refreshing.

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Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb March 4, 2012 at 7:12 am

Hi Sarah!

Katherine shared your falooda post. I love falooda but we have our own little version in Goa. Its awesome right? ;)

You know the funny part is that we posted a falooda recipe the same day.
Here is the post: http://www.masalaherb.com/blog/2012/03/falooda-and-the-basil-seeds.html

=D

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Sarah March 4, 2012 at 7:25 am

Thanks Helene! I did see your post and it is wonderful. It’s fun to think that others around the world are making the very same drink. Happy to have discovered your blog! Sarah

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Joy (My Turkish Joys) March 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

Very cool idea! Definitely a version of an Asian-style bubble tea – wonder which one came first? =) Would love to try this once fresh berries are in season here in Turkey.

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Sarah March 5, 2012 at 10:55 am

Joy, Thanks! Good question for a food historian. I have yet to try bubble tea.

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erica March 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

What an interesting drink…..looks delicious and refreshing.
Love your beautiful photo’s.

erica-sweetonyou.blogspot.com

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Faye March 8, 2012 at 2:07 am

Sherry, I’ve seen basil seeds at Asian stores and I think Persian ones.

Plantago is psyllium and I’ve it seen in Middle Eastern stores. People use it to help digestion.

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Jolene March 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm

What an interesting drink! The photos of the market tell such a great story!

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s March 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

the pictures are truly beautiful- i love how you used strawberry. as you know, we eat the same thing in Pakistan (North Indian and Pakistani cuisine is very similar) and i have never been able to abide that artificial rose syrup. this is a lovely twist on a traditional recipe. x s

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Sarah March 12, 2012 at 7:56 am

Thank you, After the comments I realized that falooda has many variations across Asia.

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