We all have our favourite ice cream flavours but nothing comes close to the kulfi! The dessert traces its origins to Mughal times when people figured out that they could use saltpetre to keep Himalayan ice intact, even in a tropical country like ours.
So, in the era that precedes modern cold storage technology, dessert chefs in royal kitchens boiled and churned milk and cream, flavoured it with nuts and saffron and poured it into earthenware pots to make kulfi.
Like the biryani, paratha and lassi, it travelled all over the country and is a favourite, especially in summer. This sweet, smooth and indulgent dessert has taken many avatars since and today, we have no dearth of kulfi variants. It can be served on matka pots or simply on sticks. Fancier places serve it chopped, on dessert plates. Home-made kulfi is poured into plastic moulds.
The local kulfi wala sells his unbranded, no frills kulfi well after dark. In several families, itâ€™s tradition to feast on kulfi on the way back home, after watching a late evening show.
What goes into a kulfi?
Traditional recipes of kulfi call for heavy cream (malai) and full cream milk with favourful additives. Kulfi is creamier than ice cream and is devoid of hard-to-swallow ice because the slow cooked dairy becomes very creamy and thick.
Home cooks experiment with condensed milk, evaporated milk and even khoa to make their own versions of this dessert. Nuts and saffron are indispensable in these recipes as is cardamom.
Pureed fruit can yield several flavours and mango kulfi is the most popular home-made and store bought kulfi variant especially in summer months.
Interestingly, legend has it that the kulfi, with its generous share of almonds, pistachios and assorted nuts, is an aphrodisiac. This is why many old south Indian films used the arrival of the kulfi seller to suggest something raunchy!
Where to get your kulfi fix?
Be it a dessert bar like Chennaiâ€™s Kulfi House or Hyderabadâ€™s Bombay Natural Kulfi, there are several outlets across the country which are popular destinations for fans of the dessert. Not only restaurant chains, even Aavin, Tamil Naduâ€™s cooperative milk producersâ€™ federation, makes and sells an immensely popular single flavour kulfi which is priced at Rs. 20.
Bengaluru bred Divya Keshava Murthy, a content strategist, reminisces of her visits to Sreeraj Lassi Bar in Jayanagar. The place still serves delectable kulfis and is a favourite across generations. Most Indian cuisine restaurants also serve kulfi as part of their dessert menu.
Cold stone ice creams, frozen yogurts, vegan ice creams and sugar free desserts may have taken over our cities but kulfi still has its place. And for those who love truly love it, the alarming traffic on the roads cannot stop them from getting their favourite dessert when they want it â€“ even if it means driving halfway across the city!