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Best Exotic Summer Treats: Pickled Watermelon and Turkish Ayran

By Sonja Sharp | July 5, 2012 11:14am
Pickled watermelon is a popular Russian summertime favorite, best enjoyed beachside.
Pickled watermelon is a popular Russian summertime favorite, best enjoyed beachside.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

BROOKLYN — Step away from that iced tea!

New Yorkers looking to escape summer's stickiest days could learn a thing or two from Brooklyn's diverse ethnic enclaves, where residents often hail from much warmer climes.

Surprising tip No. 1? Stop putting ice in your summer drinks and start drinking hot liquids. 

"You drink iced coffee, iced tea, it's bad," said Gayaba Bronshteyn of Gayana's Bakery Cafe on Ditmas Avenue in Kensington, an Azerbaijan native who knows how to beat the heat. "If the temperature outside is hot, inside your temperature should be the same. It's better to be the same temperature outside and in."

From Indian ice cream to Vietnamese lemonade, Russian watermelon to Turkish yogurt, adventuresome eaters from Brighton Beach to Borough Park and beyond shared their top summer treats from around the world. But be warned — while delicious to many, these exotic delicacies are not for the faint of heart. 


Russia may be more famous for its brutal winters than its balmy summers, but believe it or not, Russians have their dog days, too. That's why no trip to Brighton Beach is complete without a sampling of the local summer fare — in this case, a distinctly Eastern European take on the classic hot-weather favorite. While pickled watermelon might sound like a tongue-curling oxymoron, the slightly briny, vinegar-based preparation preserves much of the melon's innate sweetness, while giving it a beachy bite. 

For the best, try M&I International Foods on Brighton Beach Avenue. 


Known to Persians as doogh and Indians as salt lassi, this cool yogurt drink is another of Bronshteyn's summer favorites. If sipping a carton of mildly salty yogurt doesn't sound particularly appetizing, she recommends blending it with cucumber and dill for a refreshing snack.  


The basil seed drink you're most likely to find in Brooklyn may be a product of Thailand, but its biggest boosters in the borough mostly hail from Pakistan, where the rich, syrupy-sweet beverage is a key ingredient in the popular dessert Falooda. Adapted from an Iranian sweet, Falooda mixes basil drink with rose syrup, jelly, tapioca and milk. 

Still, despite its disarming appearance (tiny, bug-sized seeds suspended in turbid, grayish liquid) basil seed drink is cool and sweet enough to be enjoyed on its own — if you're up for it. 

"It makes you feel cool inside," said Shafiq Ul Hassan of Sevendays Groceries in Midwood, where, like grocers up and down Coney Island Avenue, he sells several cases of the drink every week through the summer months. "In weather like this, it's great."


What's shaped like a popsicle but rich like an ice cream cone? Khulfi, a popular South Asian dairy treat, is a popular alternative to Mr. Softee in neighborhoods like Midwood, where Ali Hessan of Gourmet Sweets on Coney Island Avenue can sell a cool 200 of the handmade pops in just a few hours.

Like other Subcontinent sweets, khulfi is both richer and generally less sugary than American ice cream, with a taste and density that approaches cheesecake. Fans of artisanal ice creameries in Brooklyn's tonier neighborhoods will be happy to know the Coney Island Avenue markets all make their frosty delights by hand, Hessan said. 

"We use milk, peanuts and pistachios," he said of the restaurant's homemade mix. "It's really cold — and it's cheap!" 


Also known as Chanh Muối, this Vietnamese summer staple is made from pickled limes or lemons, mixed with water and sugar. It's like Gatorade with pulp, though the savory-sweet taste can be a bit of an adjustment for the Western palate. Drinks that mix sweet and savory are popular in tropical areas around the world, where weather is hot and hydration is key. 

Just like sports drinks, which tout their electrolyte-balancing powers, the salt and sugar combo in the Vietnamese treat and its other ethnic variations keep sippers more hydrated than water alone. 

For an authentic experience, order a fresh cup at Ba Xuyen in Eighth Avenue in Borough Park.