Words by Susan Able and photographs by Hannah Hudson.
When Rano Singh welcomes you into Pansaari, her recently opened Indian spice store and grocery, you know you have arrived someplace special.
The walls are covered with intricate Indian tiles, with long shelves of the freshest spices. Behind an inlaid marble bar, amazingly fragrant chai tea, South Indian coffee and her own kombuchas are served, as well as Indian food. A committed locavore, Singh buys her lemongrass and mint from a local farm, and the honey is from a beekeeper in Washington, D.C.
Pansaari feels more like the living room of a friend with very comfortable Indian furniture. It’s a place to linger in conversation and soak in the smell of fresh spice.
Singh explains that in India a “pansaari” is the spice grocery. The first consult for ailments is to the pansaari for spice-based remedies. Tonics, such as fennel water, are commonly used. On a cold winter night, Singh offered up a glass of 100 Jor Bagh, a calming tonic with a recipe unique to her family in Jaipur, India. Based in Ayurvedic nutrition, Singh considers this a balancing drink for digestion—all the various ingredients, which are steeped into a tea, have healthy and unique medicinal properties.
“I just feel better after I drink it,” explained Singh, who has a glass after her daily yoga. “It balances me.”
100 Jor Bagh
Makes 2 gallons.
This calming tonic is as tasty as it is soothing. It is important to add the ingredients in the proper sequence to preserve the essential elements. It makes 2 gallons, which will last up to a month if refrigerated.
2 gallons spring water
2 cups fennel seeds (if you have a choice, choose the largest ones)
12 stalks lemon grass, washed and chopped—root, leaves and all
½ cup cardamom pods, crushed
2 sticks cinnamon
6 bunches mint
1 cup honey
Take a large pot, add the 2 gallons of spring water and bring it to just under a boil. Add the fennel seeds and chopped lemon grass. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes and turn off the heat. Add the crushed cardamom and cinnamon and let it steep for an hour. Bring the pot to a boil and add the mint bunches; cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 6–8 hours.
Strain the solids out. To the liquid, add the honey and stir it well until it dissolves. Add the juice of 4-6 lemons, to your taste. Drink chilled from the refrigerator or slightly warmed as a tea, but no ice. It dilutes the mixture and is frowned upon in Ayurvedic tradition.
This story first appeared in the January 2015 issue of Edible DC.