In the middle of Hauz Khas village there is a very unassuming little ice cream stand serving one of Delhi’s most coveted desserts, kulfi. It’s a popular spot with University students and tuk tuk drivers who come here at all hours of the day and night to satisfy their sugar fix.
Watch The Video
If you would like to watch the video review, where we visit the Kulfi vendor in New Delhi you can click play on the video above.
Or if you would prefer you can watch the video on (YouTube here).
Kulfiano is tucked away in a small little corner nestled between bars and upscale restaurants. It stands in front of Hauz Khas Complex, a 14th century archeological site overlooking the beautiful deer park which ironically is teaming with red faced Rhesus monkeys.
Before I visited Delhi, I did some research on food items I promised myself I would try and kulfi was at the top of my list. I had salivated over photos of ice cream garnished with bits of cherry and pistachio pieces. The part that intrigued me the most were the exotic indian spices used in making it as well as the process.
Culinary history of Indian kulfi
Kulfi was invented in the 16th century during the Mughlai empire under the Akbar administration. The fact that this incredible ice cream has roots in the Middle East should come at no surprise since India has had a grueling history of foreign invasions by both the Turks and the Arabs.
Kulfi is traditionally served in an earthen cup called a matka in Hindi. This is one of its trademarks as being a unique dessert item in Delhi. The matka is first filled with the mouth-watering kulfi, and then covered with a small piece of fabric which is tied with a string.
This special closure not only looks attractive, but also acts to preserve the ice cream from being frost bitten. The word kulfi actually translates into “covered cup” and is derived from the Farsi language (Iran).
The process of making kulfi is complicated, at best. From its exotic ingredients to the skilled cooking techniques needed to master its delicate execution, kulfi can be thought of as gourmet even when served roadside.
Kulfi is a frozen dessert that is similar and yet different from traditional ice cream.
First, it is richer and denser in nature because of it’s secret ingredient, bread.
Secondly, it’s not whipped like Western ice cream which is just another factor that adds to its astounding density.
Third, Kulfi is made using malai or what would otherwise be considered evaporated milk.
This slow cooking process involves heating non-homogenized milk and stirring it constantly so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. The result is a thicker, more fattier, protein-rich cream. This cream is mixed together with breadcrumbs and sugar which produces a delightfully dense and unique texture.
Lastly, another key element that make kulfi distinct from traditional Western ice cream is that it has a distinctive caramelized taste due to the heating of the lactose.
Once the heating process is complete, the cream is spiced with the following: rose water, cardamon, cinnamon, saffron, almonds, pistachios, and seasonal dried fruits such as cherries. It is then garnished with salt to enhance the already exuberant flavors.
Kulfi can be found in many different flavors such as cream, rose, mango, vanilla, cardamom, mango, saffron and pistachio.
Eating Traditional Kulfi in Delhi India
There are many types of kulfi for sale at Kulfiano, a local kulfiwala in Hauz Khas Village. You could order a mango kulfi which is a mango stuffed with ice cream or you could get popsicles which come in different flavors, but if you just want plain kulfi you’ll have to point to the little clay cup so they know that’s what you want.
I ordered a kulfi which was served to me in a clay cup covered with a piece of fabric over the opening and tied with a ribbon. I had never eaten ice cream that looked like a gift wrapped present before and I was eager to taste my first bite.
The worker untied the ribbon clasped around the fabric, and then uncovered the mouth of the clay cup throwing the circular piece of fabric on to the counter.
He then methodically peeled off a small tin foil covering and handed me the reddish-brown frozen clay cup. As I peered down into the cup, I was thrilled to see a yolk tinted ice cream staring back at me. “What was this going to taste like?” I wondered with intrigue.
I dug my spoon into the ice cream and pulled out a nice little mound for me to ravish.
I took my first bite.
As soon as the ice cold mixture rested on my tongue, I felt my mind exploding from the flavors that were bursting within.
My tastebuds were confused and delighted from the texture. It didn’t have the typical ice cream feel to it, this was different.
This was next level.
The kulfi was creamier, thicker, richer, and more flavorful in every way imaginable. It was had a weight to it, and not just from the cream but from something else.
As I racked my brain searching for an answer it finally came to me. It tasted bready. But that didn’t sound plausible. Could there really be bread crumbs mixed into this ice cream, I wondered in amazement unsure if my hypothesis was correct…
I took another bite.
I chewed on pieces of freshly crushed cardamon pods. Soft little chunks of cherries stuck to the top of my teeth. I gulped down another bite with a whole pistachio wedged within it.
I was induced in a temporal state of milk-infused madness.
I peered around with a look of disbelief on my face, and passing locals looked back at me with a smirk on their face understanding that I had just become privy to their secret. I was envious that they were able to eat this everyday, and that I would soon have to leave in a week without a life-time supply of this delicious dessert in my luggage.
I thought originally that the yellow color which added to its already appetizing aesthetics came from saffron, but it turns out I was mistaken.
After doing some digging, I soon realized that the flavor I received was just plain cream, called “malai” in Hindi. The ice cream is made with non homogenized milk which is first boiled and then allowed to cool, enabling the coagulation of fat and proteins to rise to the surface which forms a yellowish tint.
During my stay in Delhi, I really fell in love with kulfi. I still dream about it to this day hoping for the next chance I get to put my hands around a cool clay cup filled with delicious frozen cream.
Price: 90 ($1.35 USD)
Location & Directions
V9A, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, 110016, India
Directions: Directly across from the Starbucks on the main street filled with bars and restaurants. Look for their brightly lit neon sign and hoards of customers eating ice cream on the street
Phone:+91 11 4050 8383
Hours: Open everyday 11am- late evening