A bottle of Ramune was placed at my table as I settled down for a meal at this new restaurant in Kolkata which specialised in serving pan Asian street food. This Japanese fizzy drink is very popular with patrons, the service staff informed me. As I lifted the Codd-neck bottle and stabbed at the marble inside, it instantly reminded me of Banta Soda of Delhi.
A popular street-side drink which most likely travelled from the Punjab to Delhi, Banta Soda is a popular thirst quencher in the hot months. ‘Banta’ in Punjabi means marble. Often served with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of rock salt, this tangy fizzy drink will perk you up immediately. Interestingly, this popular soda has now climbed the social charts too and is being served in upmarket cafes and bars in Delhi of course with a makeover. While the Banta soda (also called Goli Soda) is popular in northern India, in the south it is known as Goli Soda, again ‘goli’ referring to the marble inside. In suburban Kolkata, it is called Fotash Jol (‘fotash’ referring to the sound of the fizz when the bottle is opened, ‘jol’ meaning water).
As the soda as a beverage became popular in England by the beginning of the 19th century, it is not surprising that it made its way to India too. It was the Parsi entrepreneurs who were apparently the first to note the commercial opportunity, of selling to the British their favourite beverage. According to an article by historian Dinyar Patel (published on BBC.com), by 1913, Bombay (now Mumbai) had more than 150 licensed soda factories.
Here is a look at some of the vintage ‘made in India’ carbonated drinks brands that are popular across the country.
A visit to any Irani café in Mumbai is not complete without a swig at the fiery red sweetish Raspberry Soda of Pallonji’s. Founded in 1865, it predates global brands Coca Cola (1892) and Pepsi (1902). The company changed hands a couple of times. Although it was feared that the famous soda may not be able to withstand the competition from the younger brands and the closing down of Irani cafes, it made a turnaround under PV Solanki (who owns the company now). Of course, it has to fight a stiff competition with global brands but Solanki has taken the brand beyond Mumbai, to Delhi, Bengaluru, and even London.
Ardeshir & Sons
‘Great taste and quality since 1884’ proudly declares this Pune-based company which is known for its sodas and soft drinks. Over the years, they have expanded the range of flavours – adding green apple, peach and pineapple to their ever popular raspberry, lemon and jeera flavours.
A popular brand which you will find across Tamil Nadu is Bovonto (Kalimark Bovonto). The grape-flavoured fizzy drink arrived in the market in 1958 and never looked back. The company by itself is more than a century old (founded in 1916) and is still run by the founding family. According to Bovonto fans, the drink is a must after a spicy meal. This popular beverage is also now exported.
In 1923, an enterprising businessman from Surat – Abbas Rahim Hajoori – introduced a locally made juice-based carbonated drink. He named it Socio, inspired by the Latin word Socious (member) which meant friend or comrade in classical Roman times. The drink was an instant hit in Surat and soon spread beyond its borders, even to neighbouring states. Meanwhile, the management noticed that influenced by the local diction, Socio was being pronounced as ‘Sosyo’. In 1953, they formally changed the name to Sosyo. Today, the company not only sells in India but also exports to a number of countries.
Cottons & Co
This iconic brand from Kolkata started its journey in early 1900s. Cottons & Co ginger ale and ice cream soda were popular flavours many years back and some places in Kolkata still serve these. It is perfect with those kathi rolls, or a plate of Kolkata chow, or some spicy phuchka. Cottons has been a part of many childhoods in Kolkata, and an essential part of the trips to New Market.