The famous Delhi summer is at your doorstep, and sure there are more sophisticated options to beat the Delhi heat—lemonades, ice creams, kulfis, gelatos, chilled milk shakes, etc., but chuski is, perhaps, more elemental in coping with the miserable months of May and June, when the dry winds of Rajasthan cover the city in a yellowish haze.
Chuski is nothing but a cone of crushed ice, flavoured with syrup that can be sweet and tarty like an orange or lemon, or spicy like kali mirch (black pepper).
In summer, the chuski-wallah bhaiyas, as the vendors are known, station their carts in the most crowded places—outside the Metro stations, adjacent to rickshaw stands or in the lanes of upscale bazaars such as the M-Block market in Greater Kailash-1.
“Believe it or not, chuski is a modern phenomenon,” says Pushpesh Pant, author of the voluminous India: The Cookbook. “In the old times, people in Old Delhi used to have kulfi, not chuski. Kulfi on the stick was healthy and wholesome because it was condensed milk. Chuski, on the other hand, is mere sugared ice with no milk content. Mostly it is artificially coloured and flavoured. Plus, chuski has its dangers. You don’t know from where the ice is coming.” In the hygiene-conscious posh areas, these bhaiyas claim to use mineral water to make the ice. My favourite chuski-wallah stands next to Madras Café in the Green Park Market area.
Unlike water, the chuski’s crunchy, silvery snow stays inside the mouth much longer—freezing the tongue and chilling the teeth. Its iciness makes you deliciously uncomfortable, sending a shiver through your body and, for a moment, you yearn for that summer heat. Well, almost.
But not everybody is a fan.
Then why is it so popular? Pant’s response: “Just like sex, all the good things in life come with risk. Forbidden delights double the fun. The rule applies to chuski.”