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The thought of a refreshing summer sweet drink made with vermicelli, tapioca, and milk is enough to baffle even adventurous Western cooks. Once they give falooda a try, chances are excellent they’ll become instant converts. As odd as the ingredients list sounds, falooda makes plenty of mouth sense with the smooth vermicelli and round tapioca beads offering a slippery texture for the rose-scented milk to cling to.
Variations of similar sweet drinks abound. Nam manglak, a Thai concoction spun from rosewater, basil seeds, and sugar is a distant cousin. Bubble tea is popular not only throughout Asia but is becoming the hip, new sip in modern Asian cookeries throughout the United States and Europe. Younger diners especially get a giggle out of the little tapioca moons that slip up a straw and down a throat with ease.
Falooda first appeared in India by way of Persia about 600 years ago and has since spread its wings and flown to Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and points East. It is related to an ice cream-like concoction that can be traced back to over 2,500 years ago called faloodeh. Persian versions combine rosewater, pistachios, and lime juice with corn or arrowroot starch and vermicelli.
Afghani and Iranian falooda often substitutes arrowroot for wheat used to make the vermicelli noodles. Other variations are found in the primary flavors. Instead of rose sugar water, cooks in this part of the world might offer guests the beverage created with fig, mango, saffron, or chocolate as a primary flavor ingredient.
Some fans like it as a sweet topping to an Indian frozen dessert confection, or kulfi. Others skip the drink ingredients and stick with vermicelli unadorned with anything other than a frozen glaze of rosewater to decorate their kulfi. Vermicelli prepared this way is also called falooda.
Westerners sometimes describe kulfi as Indian ice cream, but there are a number of differences. While ice cream freezes and churns dairy, sugar, and eggs, kulfi begins with a base of sweetened condensed milk, which is slowly cooked and stirred until reduced in half. Cooking causes the flavors to coalesce and caramelize, a little like South American flan. At this point, the mixture is frozen in molds.
Other variations include the addition of tutti-frutti, fancying it up with a number of different kinds of rose syrups or creamed coconut. In some areas, black or green tea creates a unique flavor. In these modern times, some cooks add ice cream right into the falooda beverage or substitute it for kulfi in faloodeh.
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