For nearly five hundred years, Indians have enjoyed Kulfi in the summer season. Legend has it that the frozen dessert was made to please Emperor Akbar and the recipe is mentioned in contemporary texts like Ain-i-Akbari and Akbarnama by expert horsemen to bring slabs of ice from Chur Chandra Dhar in present-day Himachal. Describe a relay race held. Territories for royal capitals – Delhi and Agra. However, it seems more reasonable to agree with the view that the coolant originated in Iran (aka Persia). The word Kulfi is of Persian origin and translates as a sealed container.
Kulfi is usually prepared by storing condensed flavored milk in tightly closed metal containers, which are prized for serving it. Iranians are known to have mixed ice with sherbet and the juices of innumerable fruits as early as the 6th century BC. The cold confection traveled west with the Greeks and Arabs and gave rise to palate-cleansing sorbets. The Chinese point to evidence of a kulfi-like dish that was enjoyed more than five thousand years BC to claim the primacy of invention and creation of all things. What is well documented is that Emperor Nero preferred wine mixed with crushed ice/ice, although his practitioners did not approve of the practice.
A Medici princess later took the recipe for the cold dessert with her to England, from where the Quakers carried it to the New World. American Presidents such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin consumed it in large quantities and served it to their guests as well. Although chilling is common in the preparation of ice cream, gelatos and kulfis, the differences are significant. Kulfi is much denser as the milk used is not whipped to be pumped into the air.
No stabilizers or preservatives are used. Nor can it be said that the ‘ice cream’ made in a wooden bucket made by hand inspired it. Countless towns and small towns had tasted kulfi long before firangi ice cream or ice cream parlors opened in the big cities.
Many cities in North India claim that they have the best Kulfi in the ground. In Delhi, Kurhemal at Chawri Bazar is the oldest shop specializing in kulfi (established in 1906) and is famous for fruit kulfis. The pulp of fruits like mango, pomegranate, guava and apple is efficiently removed and filled with kulfi. The fruit retains its original shape and appearance. Roshan Di Kulfi in Karol Bagh dates back to the early 1950s and is famous for its kulfi known as Chole-Bhature. Madhu Kulfi in Agra offers both Matka and Tinka Kulfi and thanks to better refrigeration and transportation can now be tasted up to Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. Kanpur’s infamous Kulfi brazenly professes her drug addiction.
India has seen a churn in the ice cream business over the past decades. Big international players have entered the market to swallow up local brands like Kwality. Mother Dairy Amul and Vadilal continue to protect indigenous turf. There are many regional top players. Parsi Dairy, Natural and Havemore Tunnels are just a few in Mumbai. The famed reputation of the Dasaprakash chain in Tamil Nadu owes much to its ice cream. The world of Kulfi is also changing. Some have tried their hand at ‘manufacturing’ (mass production in a factory) popular kulfis as well as softening into a cone and even ice cream. Younger generation is opening branches and focusing on exports in India and abroad.
Many talented chefs are focusing on artisan kulfi, experimenting with exotic ingredients such as wasabi, green/blue tea, avocado and more. Play with some cool colors (greens, pale pinks and yellows) to match with flavors recommended in Ayurveda for their time-tested cooling properties—sandalwood, mint, khus and rose petals.
Others have chosen the dairy-free vegetarian route. Health conscious people can opt for sugar free kulfi. Presentation is also changing. The frozen dessert doesn’t always appear blushing pink after a generous splash of Rooh-Afza on a bed of falooda (thick vermicelli). Daulat ki chaat, also known as nimish and makhan-malai, as mildly airy frothy delicious sweets, malayo, which was earlier available only in winters, is reborn as a cold dessert.
The battle lines are clearly drawn. Will the ‘cool-cool, thandi-thandi’ kulfi conquer the world or lose its unique identity as it mimics its distant western cousins? How will this cold war end? Certainly not with a thaw! In this instance, the permafrost would most likely tickle the patron’s palate.