One weekday last month, while working from home, I ordered some takeout from an Indo-Chinese fusion place a few blocks from my apartment. It was the presence of two sodas on the menu that compelled me to order, because I hadn’t found them anywhere else since moving to New York nearly three years ago: Limca and Thums Up.
Limca and Thums Up are twin flagship sodas of the Coca-Cola Company in India. The Thums Up can is a beautiful vestibule, a svelte cylinder made of tin; inside is a smoky and dark cola, something like a spicier Pepsi. Its carbonation is an accent rather than a disruptor. Limca offers a markedly different sensory experience: It has a knit of synthetic lemon and lime flavoring, less indulgent and more refreshing. The can is a pulsing, mossy green decorated with citrus rinds that look like doilies.
Both drinks were first bottled and sold commercially in the 1970s. They've maintained a toehold over the Indian market in spite of the presence of their American analogs: Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Sprite. I’m not sure what fostered such furious brand attachment. My only guess is that it’s because these two sodas are unmistakably, markedly Indian, a homegrown confection rather than a stranger’s soda waltzing in from outside.
My Kolkata-born father was part of the Limca and Thums Up generation. In relaying stories of his upbringing to me, he painted bucolic narratives of his life in Kolkata and the prominence of these two sodas within his childhood. His was a soothing ritual of eating street food as a schoolboy and washing it down with a sleek bottle of Limca, treating it as a post-meal tonic. As he grew older, he gained a taste for the rich, piquant cola of Thums Up, too. You could say I inherited this taste from him; it's easy for a son to be drawn to what comforts his dad. Limca and Thums Up sodas were a fixture of another childhood I had: my Indian-American one, an upbringing that involved going to Subzi Mandi for groceries instead of Shop Rite. These two sodas were among the few Indian imports that had made their way into the Little Indias in towns spread across America.
Shop the Story
“Really! They carry those!” my dad texted me the day I told him about the place near my apartment that sold the two sodas he's craved. My father hasn’t had either one in years. Blame his failing health, exacerbated by a cancer that is taking its sweet time moving from one stage to the next, denying him the pleasures he once took for granted. Perhaps it was the unintentionally mis-punctuated, overly exclamatory nature of his text that made me believe I could almost hear him, giddy with disbelief, speaking these words aloud.
Sentiment can be a pretty powerful substitute for reason, especially when it comes to what we're told is objectively bad for us. Nowadays, I’m not one to drink soda regularly. Following a textbook American childhood of drinking Sprite and its many sisters, I shirked these drinks by the time I reached high school. I began to fear their pleasures would turn sinister soon enough, gnawing at the architecture of my immune system by the time I hit 30.
But if there’s ever a time to drink Thums Up or Limca, it’s probably when you’re young; the barriers that you body can impose upon you with age will otherwise make it difficult. For the soda-agnostic, I’d recommend you give Limca and Thums Up a chance. Try them once, while your body can still handle them.
Ever have Limca or Thums Up? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.