Ice, ice baby!

Ice, ice baby!

Ice, ice baby!
Tawa ice cream? What on earth is that?"
"You'll see", came the smug reply.
The tawa turned out to be a large square sheet of stainless steel fitted on top of a refrigeration unit, the whole thing looking a lot like your typical ice cream cart. The vendor poured a dash of milk and our choice of guava flavouring onto the tawa and used a spatula to spread it into a thin sheet, exactly like a paper dosa. A mere few seconds to freeze, a quick scrape-off-and-repeat to break up ice-crystals, then a steady hand with the spatula to loosen the ice-cream off the tawa in strips, rolling them up as he went along.

Paper thin rolls in a delicate petal pink, dusted with chilli powder, this was nostalgia in a paper cup, reminiscent of a juicy, ripe guava. Deftly quartered and seasoned with a mix of chilli powder and salt, it was the perfect accompaniment on the walk home from school.

Cold comfort

And just like that, Pune vaulted a few spots up the street food index. The city seems to be a harbinger of ice cream change. More than a decade ago, the city had given me a taste of flavours I had never before encountered in ice cream form - custard apple, jackfruit, tender coconut, chikoo, watermelon, etc. And it was no fancy salon, but an unassuming outlet tucked away in a narrow street. These were the early days of a chain that has since taken several cities by storm, and is now well-known for their all-natural Indian flavours.

Reinvention is a tame word for what's happening in the food and beverage industry. This holds true for ice cream too, itself a revolutionary creation for its time. History has not come to a consensus, but the earliest version of ice cream appears to have been consumed in China. From there to the Persians and Arabs, who made syrups chilled with snow, and called them sharbat.

Ice creams are not new to India. Most pre-millennials will associate summer holidays with kesar-elaichi-flavoured kulfi. If you were one of the lucky ones, your mother made these at home. We might add kulfi to the list of all things quintessentially Indian, but we have the Mughals to thank for bringing it to India. Today, India is one of the largest producers of ice cream in the world, unsurprising considering that we are one of the top producers of both milk and sugar.

The varieties available, though have changed over the years. A budget option for cash-strapped school children was the popsicle or ice-lollies, as they were called. For the princely sum of Rs 1, we got flavoured ice in attractive colours squeezed into long, narrow plastic envelopes, to be sucked on before it melted. It was also presumably a more hygienic alternative to the expressly forbidden golas sold by street vendors.

Down memory lane

Then there were the ice cream cones and softies. The cone itself was believed to be the brainchild of a quick-thinking gentleman named Ernest M Hamwi, who sold wafer-like Persian pastries at a fair in St Louis, US. When the ice cream seller at a neighbouring stall ran out of dishes, Hamwi rolled up a pastry, put a scoop of ice cream in it and called it a 'cornucopia'.

Other inventive minds added assorted ingredients like nuts and fruits to a bowl of ice cream, and the sundae was born. With exciting creations like the banana split and mixed fruit specials, this also marked the beginning of a transition. Adults, for whom ice cream had been a guilty pleasure until then, began to consume ice cream more often.

And yet, there was a time when you could ask someone what their favourite flavour was and the answer would most likely be vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. Things aren't quite so simple anymore. Preity Zinta prompted an entire generation to go looking for "Ben and Jerry's Belgian Dark Chocolate". And it's not just pregnant women who have such precise cravings. Haritha, a Bengaluru-based techie, says of her friend Jayan, "I have never seen anyone who can polish off six bars of Magnum Almond in one
hour. And then contemplate one more."

That said, the flavours du jour are minimalism and innovation. Cold-stone ice-cream is a successful example of innovative presentation. Once customers pick their flavour, they can watch as nuts and other add-ins are folded into the ice-cream on a cold granite slab.
Ice cream also comes to the rescue of many a dinner party host or hostess. Serve as-is or dress it up with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and a sprinkling of nuts, and even the most picky eater is happy. And therein lies a great truth; ice cream makes us happy. Who knew that the secret to happiness was in such easy reach? All we had to do was open the fridge.

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