All fans of the popular TV series ‘Tarek Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma’ must be aware of ‘Abdul's Soda Shop’. In this fizzy drink joint, friends often get together for post-dinner chit-chats to discuss life's exciting happenings. It always fascinated me to visit one of these soda centres and have an experience Jethalal would be proud of.  

In Rajasthan, you will find many soda centres playing a similar role in the gastronomic life of its patrons. During my stay in Jodhpur, after a fantastic traditional meal, my friend Divyesh casually asked me, 'Soda Peene Chale' (Shall we go for a glass of Soda). It immediately reminded me of ‘Abdul's Shop’, and I happily agreed.  

Most times, these soda shops are located near a food hub, providing food lovers an instant relief after a wholesome experience gorging on delicious and spicy Indian snacks. 

At the ‘Jalori Gate Circle’ in Jodhpur, ‘Kashmir Soda Centre’ is located; this colourful cart adorned by various syrups and flavours of Sodas had a decent crowd of people waiting for their turn to order their favourite Soda. 

In most cities, Soda is a refreshing drink to enjoy during the day; however, seeing the fascination of people enjoying Soda well past dinner time made me understand the value of this beverage. It’s a social beverage, as they say, 'Soda Toh Ek Bahana hai'; Soda is just a reason to catch up with friends.  

'Cola', 'Lemon', 'Orange', 'Masala' etc. were a few of the popular flavours at this iconic soda cart. We were a group of 4 friends and tried four different flavours of soda to compete whose soda was the best, 

Fizzy soda was not just refreshing, but its sweet flavours worked as a perfect substitute for a dessert. Enjoying a fizzy drink spiked with spices and lemon is often considered a digestive; this fizzy concoction soothes the feeling inside your guts; the delicious taste of flavoured soda is just the perfect ending to a good meal, and the day passed by.  

The patrons at this shop do not miss a day without a visit to this legendary place, 'Our day is not complete without a glass of Soda and lots of fun chit-chat with friends,’ said Kapil, a regular visitor to the shop.  

Even in Gujarat, Soda drinks are the love potion everyone indulges in. The concept of Soda probably would have started in Gujarat, as the state prohibits the consumption of Alcohol; Gujaratis have learned to find their form of happiness primarily from the food and drinks (Soft drinks) Gujarat often overdoses on. 

Ahmedabad is full of small carts and counters, cutely known as the ‘Soda Pubs’. These soda pubs have an endless list of flavoured sodas, innovative soda mocktails, and some whacky concoctions that can blow your mind. Each market or food court will have a few popular soda pubs where you can choose your favourite drink to enjoy with the food. While the classic options always remain a fruity flavour, the knack for innovation led to the creation of ‘Fuljar Soda’, a soda drink with a shot of mixed spices and green chillies, which leaves an effervescent reaction when fizzy soda is poured over it. It’s a quest to sip it fast enough not to let even a drop of soda fall out of the glass, which most people fail. However, the sweet and spicy taste of ‘fuljar’ soda wins the heart almost every time. 

On one such visit to a soda shop, I was offered to try ‘Chaas Soda’, A Spiced Buttermilk topped up with soda! It was an over-the-top idea to mix a milk product like buttermilk with soda, with both soda and buttermilk having cooling effects; the addition of spices and green chilli balanced the flavour and made it an attractive drink to try. In some places, soda shops have paired with a Pan shop or an ice cream parlour. Ice cream soda is another star attraction for people looking for a post-meal fizzy dessert. 

Soda shops are indeed a delightful place for refreshing and tantalising beverages; however, more than that, it’s a place to connect. Thus, most soda centres depend on the drink's taste, flavour, and emotional association with their patrons. Like ‘Abdul’s’ connection with the residents of ‘Gokul Dham society’, they look out for their favourite customers. 

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.