Milk slow-cooked and reduced to its creamy essence; saffron, cardamom and crunchy bits of pistachios; frozen in conical moulds and drizzled with rose syrup—a dessert fit for kings. The kulfi, however, has outlasted its royal patrons and survived the onslaught of ice creams and colas. It has thrived in its original rabri-and-pistachio avatar, but has also morphed to incorporate myriad flavours, textures and forms— chuskis, sorbets, stuffed, rolled.
The rainbow-coloured sticks at the Kings Kulfi kiosk at the Food Chowk at DLF Place mall in Saket, New Delhi, tell the story of the kulfi’s journey. The sticks, ranging from Rs20-50, come in 24 flavours, from the routine kesar pista, chocolate and strawberry to the seasonal hits mango and lychee and the more unusual anjeer, blackcurrant, paan, rum and raisin. Rajesh Kumar, the owner of Kings Kulfi, says: “Ours is a naturally prepared product, free from any kind of stabilizing or emulsifying agent. The natural aroma, taste and texture come from the fruit pulps we use.” He says Kings doesn’t use fruit juices because the water content in juices crystallizes.
Cooler: The stuffed mango kulfi at Kuremal’s. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Kings Kulfi is quite the Indian success story—the original indigenous frozen dessert that was expected to bow out in the face of stiff competition from branded ice creams proved to be the lifeline for its owner. Kumar used to be a small-time ice-cream manufacturer, but shifted to kulfis a decade ago when branded ice creams flooded the market. “We could not keep up with the MNCs. So I switched to manufacturing kulfis,” says Kumar. Today, the Saket kiosk is one of nearly 30 dotting upmarket malls in Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Thane and Pune. The Delhi-based company ships its kulfis nationwide from its factory in Pune. A second unit, coming up in Gurgaon, will be operational in February. Kings Kulfi also has a contract with the Big Bazaar chain.
At the other end of the town and a world away from the glittering DLF Place mall is another success story, one that is over a century old. It is easy to miss Kuremal Mahavir Prasad Kulfiwale’s spartan store, tucked deep inside the rabbit warren of Delhi-6. A simple board proclaiming the shop’s name is the only giveaway that it sells desserts. But don’t go by appearances, it’s as steeped in history as the neighbourhood it is located in—Kucha Pati Ram, a narrow alley of crumbling havelis off Bazaar Sitaram in Chawri Bazaar. Over the decades, its reputation has spread beyond Indian shores, claims Manoj Sharma, the younger son of Mahavir Prasad. “We recently supplied to a kulfi stall at a festival in Hong Kong and catered at an NRI wedding in Belgium.” There are also regular shipments to Japan. Manoj rattles off his clientele list, which sounds like a who’s who of Delhi’s power circles. “Rahul Gandhi visited our store once during the Navratras. The CM (Sheila Dikshit) likes our Daulat ki Chaat, made during winter. (L.K.) Advani loves the roller kulfis while Atalji’s favourite is anar.”
Founder Kuremal Sharma, a migrant from Jhajjar in Haryana, came to Chandni Chowk as an eight-year-old in 1908. He apprenticed with a halwai and after a few years ventured out on his own, selling kulfis from a matka. His original recipes of rabri kulfi, which counts Sonia Gandhi among its fans, and mango kulfi remain best-sellers to this day.
However, it would be years before Kuremal would own a shop and several decades before that shop would shift to its present location. “My grandfather Kuremalji bought a shop not too far from here around 1940. This shop was set up in the early 1970s by my father, Mahavir Prasad,” Manoj says. Kuremal sells a jaw-dropping 71 varieties of kulfis, made from rabri, cream and juices. There are even some low-sugar varieties for diabetics.
Then there are the sorbet-like Kulfi Juleps made from fruits of every hue and flavour— pomegranate, guava, kiwi, apricot, falsa, sharifa and sundry others. Finer in texture than a regular sorbet and made from fresh juices with bits of the fruits, they are light and refreshing. And at Rs35 a piece, the perfect dessert in case you have overindulged at the Gali Kababian nearby.
Stuffed kulfis are the opposite. Whole fruits stuffed with rabri and frozen, they are as decadent as they get. The pick of this variety is, of course, the mango. Made only with Alphonsos, it’s the king of kulfis that once graced emperors’ tables.