Omnivore - Swilling juice at Thali and Patel Brothers

One tasty, one challenging


My Grazing column this week is mainly about a visit to Thali in Decatur. While I was there, I ordered a popular Indian beverage called jaljeera pani. Our server was not encouraging. "I need to warn you. It's an acquired taste," he said. "I doubt you'll like it."

He was right. The drink is made with spices dissolved in water. Pale green, it was very salty with — to my palate, anyway — a predominant dose of cumin, a spice with which I have a mainly negative relationship. It was garnished with boondi, something like Rice Krispies made with chickpea flour.


  • www.thalirestaurantatl.com
  • Glasses of jaljeera pani and buttermilk

Our server laughed when I told him he must be psychic. He then told me I needed to visit Patel Brothers grocery, next door in Patel Plaza, to try another popular drink made of sugar cane juice, ginger and lemon. “It’s soooo good, you don’t have to worry about acquired taste,” he said. “They make it right there while you wait.”

Wayne and I visited the grocery the next night, Saturday. If you haven't been there, go. It's truly like stepping into another world. I don't know if Saturday night is a big shopping day in the Indian community. But when we visited, the store was so crowded and so exotic that we wandered around like zombies, unable to find anything like a juice bar. I asked an employee if she knew where it was. I assumed she was Indian but she turned out to be Mexican. I asked her in Spanish where I could find the juice bar and she said she had no idea.

Eventually, we found it - in the front of the store - behind the teeming mass at the cash registers.

Although other drinks, like traditional lassis, were available, everyone was ordering the same sugar-cane drink. We had to wait about 10 minutes while the juice man scurried off to replenish the sugar cane. I looked at an adjoining case of livid pastries that, weirdly, could have come from Kroger. A couple of kids raced around me, playing peek-a-boo with my legs. The juice arrived. It was pale green and sweet enough that it really required the lemon and ginger. Wayne sprinkled some black salt atop his. The drink was not iced but refreshing.

I don’t think it’s going to replace iced swee'tea in the South. But give it a try if only to behold the amazing spectacle at Patel Brothers.