NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - India's commerce and cuisine have both been immeasurably enriched by its rich trove of fragrant spices. So naturally, in Mumbai, the commercial, entertainment and nightlife capital of India, those spices even find their way into cocktails.
"Cocktail culture is nascent in India," says Mumbai-based food writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, who also leads bar-crawling expeditions.
Straight-up spirits and beer are usually the preferred tipples. However, she reports that it's become trendy to fuse Indian and Southeast Asian flavors into cocktails, incorporating bold herbs and spices such as roasted cumin, kaffir lime leaves, or bird's-eye chilli peppers.
While neutral vodka is usually the spirit of choice to infuse, look for "wilder experimentation" with other spirits, particularly in smaller independent bars, she advises.
A prime example: the Maharasthra Martini at Wink (here%20President%20Hotel,MUMBAI/WINK/default.htm) inside the Taj President Hotel in (here%20President%20Hotel,MUMBAI/WINK/default.htm) inside the Taj President Hotel in
South Bombay, made with curry leaf-infused whisky and coffee liqueur.
"It's a must-try for someone visiting the city looking for a local flavor," Ghildiyal says.
(I've heard rumblings that India has become increasingly interested in whisky over the past couple of years, and this bar, which offers 40+ whiskeys, may be a particularly fine starting point for whisky enthusiasts.)
Elsewhere, the sedate, business traveler-friendly Opium Den (here) at the Trident boasts a long list of infused vodkas
with flavors like star anise, Sichuan pepper and galangal (a close relative of ginger), which then are mixed into light vodka martinis.
For example, the Belvedere Chilli & Strawberry is a deceptively sweet, deep pink drink with a spicy chilli kicker; while the savory Shrimp Martini mixes house-infused galangal vodka with chilled vermouth, garnished with a marinated shrimp and olive skewer.
China House (here) at the Grand Hyatt, midway between South an d North Mumbai, is famed for its hopping lounge-bar area, usually packed tight by midnight with mojito-swilling "party animals."
Meanwhile, those seeking a more exotic and chilled experience head to tropical-themed Bonobo (www.bonobo.co.in/) for fruity cocktails such as the Mango & Star Anise Martini.
Raise a glass and repeat: spice is nice.
RECIPE: Maharasthra Martini from WINK
A spice-infused, adventurous whisky cocktail to enjoy at
home or abroad.
20 curry leaves, plus additional curry leaf sprig for
20 coffee beans, plus additional for garnish
60 ml Chivas Regal 18-year-old whisky
10 ml Kahlua
60 ml sour mix
Muddle the curry leaves and coffee beans in a cocktail shaker. Shake all the ingredients with ice, and double-strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a few coffee beans and sprig of curry leaves.
Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato