Kulfi is a popular frozen dessert from the Indian Subcontinent. It is often described as “traditional Indian ice cream”, although to be fair it’s also popular throughout Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Nepal. I think this kind of ice cream tastes and feels pretty much better than any other variety I can think of.
When blogging about different kinds of ice cream in the world, I always took a particular affection to Kulfi. Kulfi has similarities to western ice cream in appearance and taste, although I found it was denser and creamier. The traditional flavours of kulfi are malai, rose, mango, and pistachio. There are newer variations such as apple, orange, strawberry, peanut, and avocado, which represent foreign influences, although unlike western ice cream, kulfi is not whipped, which results in a more solid and more dense frozen dessert. Due to this density, kulfi takes a longer time to melt than Western ice-cream. This is certainly a blessing in disguise as I discovered when enjoying a leisurely stroll down Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai one lunchtime!
This traditional Indian ice cream was thought to have originated in the Mughal Empire, though the mixture of dense evaporated milk was already popular in Hindu sweet dishes before then. During the Mughal period, however, this existing mixture was flavoured with pistachios and saffron, packed into metal cones and immersed in slurry ice, resulting in the invention of the Kulfi we know today. Make your own Kulfi at home!
Kulfi is traditionally prepared by evaporating sweetened and flavoured milk via slow cooking, with almost continuous stirring to keep milk from sticking to the bottom of the vessel where it might burn, until its volume lessens and thickens the mixture. It is garnished with cardamom, saffron, or pistachio nuts. In some places, people make it at home and create their own flavours. I always think kulfi looks very neat and tidy on a stick, unlike some western popsicles or the unkempt ice cream hanging over the edges of the cones elsewhere in the world.
Traditionally in India, kulfi is sold by vendors called kulfiwalas, who keep the kulfi frozen by placing the moulds inside a large earthenware pot called a matka, filled with ice and salt. It is served on a leaf or frozen onto a stick. I found so many of these vendors in Mumbai, especially along Marine Drive, and Chowpatty and Juhu Beaches. There were also some amazing kulfiwalas in the Colaba Causeway. Often, I found it was served as falooda kulfi, which was basically kulfi with rice noodles, topped with sugar syrup and other ingredients.
I can’t help but feel that Kulfi is the world’s best form of ice cream. Arabic Booza is nice, Italian gelato is cool, and I also loved sorbetes from the Philippines, but kulfi always has a special place in my heart!