Water With Ice

We were shown to our table at Redwood City’s LV Mar Tapas and Cocktails restaurant. A waiter appeared with a cheery greeting and a glass pitcher and proceeded to pour water into our glasses. Noting that the water had no clink nor sparkle, I smiled at the waiter after he had finished pouring, and asked, “May I have ice, please?”  

Previously at an Italian restaurant in Saratoga, I had made that same request, as well as at an Indian restaurant in San Francisco. And prior to the pandemic, I had once insisted that I preferred ice in my beverage at a pop-up Mediterranean kitchen though the staff had looked startled and somewhat hesitant.  

Water No Ice

Too often, I’m served water without ice at restaurants. In most cases, it is a presumptive gesture. I’m from India and many of my brethren ask for “water no ice” at eating places. “It’s a cultural thing,” I’m told. However, to me, ice is the jewel in the crown of cold beverages.

Reasons offered for this anti-ice sentiment include “you’ll fall sick,” “it will make you fat,” “it hurts my gums,” “it’s dirty,” “I don’t want my drinks diluted with ice,” to the Ayurvedic theory that iced water can slow down the digestive process. 

Even if that were all true, there’s no accounting for the coolness factor. Coke and Ginger Ale don’t taste half as good without ice and imagine pouring Nimbu Pani or Fresh Lime Soda without the sound of frosty cubes marbling into empty glasses.

Cold As Ice

My love for frozen water is, I admit, perverse and reactionary. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Calcutta in India, the Irish missionary nuns who taught at the Loreto Convent, where I was enrolled, would sip from tall glasses of beverages with gleaming ice, seated under colorful umbrellas on sports day, while us “native children” were given lukewarm tap water to combat the naked heat and exertion of 100-meter hurdles and freestyle relays. The conviction is that ice, a costly commodity, could be better appreciated only by those less inured to the tropical heat. 

The complication, that I later came to understand, was that while I was being given the tools to adapt and thrive in a western leaning world, I was also being told my place in it. It was both an elaboration of who I was and an erosion of who I could become. 

Jaya Padmanabhan

The cold sting of that deprivation has lingered long after I had frequent and easy access to ice in later years. 

History Of Ice

Historically, ice was an expensive, if frivolous, treat for the wealthy for many centuries. Emperor Nero had ice transported from the Apennines to serve in summer sherbets. It is said that Henry III ostentatiously displayed ice and snow on his tables when guests visited.  Mark Twain, in his travelogue “Life on the Mississippi,” described how ice blocks were set on a platter “in the center of dinner-tables, to cool the tropical air; and also to be ornamental, for the flowers and things imprisoned in them could be seen as through plate glass.”

According to the essayist Anne Fadiman, the 17th-century Italian physician and poet Francesco Redi was so addicted to cold drinks that he wrote a panegyric to snow and ice in the poem “Bacco in Toscana:”

“And bring me ice, 
From the grotto under the Boboli hill. 
With long picks, 
With great poles
crack, chip
Until all resolves
In finest iciest powder …”

An Icy Business

It was Frederic Tudor, a Bostonian, who commoditized ice by building an ice shipping business, delivering blocks of ice to housewives and businessmen across the country. He is credited with making ice more affordable in the mid-nineteenth century. 

As Tudor’s business thrived, he opened up new lines of trade out of New England to the rest of the country and, in due course, to distant warmer terrains across oceans. On September 6, 1833, the first shipment of ice landed in Calcutta and 140 years later found its way into Sister Moira and Mother Padua’s water glasses on sports day at my school.

The Indian Ice-Maker

In the mid-seventies, when I was a teenager, my parents bought their first refrigerator. Godrej was the local ubiquitous brand. The one we got was about 4 feet tall, and quickly became another family member, given how often we communed with it. It came with a small fitted door on the top left which contained a plastic ice tray. This, I ceremoniously filled with tap water every night. Mid-morning, I would extract the tray and work the ice out. 

Once released, I’d drop the ice into glasses of sugary, rose-flavored Rooh Afza that my mother routinely prepared and kept ready at the dining table mid-morning. Those dozen frozen cubes tempered the overbearing sweetness of the sherbet to palatability. 

An American Icebreaker

I was reminded of Redi’s alliterations as the waiter at LV Mar brought a glass heaped with shining crystals. As I crunched into the ice, I felt that satisfying cold burn, numbing and then opening up my taste buds, an icebreaker to the rest of my meal.

Today, I have an ice maker in my refrigerator, and during the day, like a sudden musical riff, I hear the sound of ice falling into the trough. Even if brief, the alchemy of that moment is poetic. These ice cubes, made in my refrigerator, and splashed into my drink are symbols of my shifting, dissolving, evolving dimensions; an emergence beyond proscribed limits. 

Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....