Secrets of Indian Kulfi in Varanasi

by - August 29, 2016

Three and a half days in Varanasi have given so much, that I find it difficult to select what is worth telling and what not, not to bore, on the blog. I've already talked about the gali, the chaos, the traffic, the police, the ghats, and the death. I have to talk about the food. And the best way to cool down here is with a kulfi.

I had the opportunity to try a kulfi on my first trip to Varanasi, but they did not tell me or I did not keep the name on that occasion. Kulfi is a frozen dessert based on milk that is seasoned with saffron, cardamom and pistachios. They sell them in ice cream stands and it's an ideal snack when you want something creamy and cold.

In Varanasi the samosa stands emerge from every corner like mushrooms. There are too many to count. They not only sell samosas, but also kachori, bread vada, jalebi, etc. They are the typical fried street food. We could not leave without venturing to try some of these delicacies, so we looked for a place where they were frying the samosas and there we waited for them to serve us some warm with the accompanying chutney. They were not bad, but they were not amazing either. In Calcutta I have tasted better.

However, there is one thing that is better in Varanasi than in Calcutta is the lassi. Served in bhar (clay cups) like tea, flavored with spices and pistachio, the Varanasi lassi has the perfect consistency and sweetness. I taste one in a gali after observing the beginning of a representation of the Ramlila. In a very dirty lake hidden in the middle of the city, we found a Lassi store that had those precious things.

The owner was a young man dressed in white like all Varanasi men (maybe to contrast with the colorful women). He beat more yogurt with sugar in a metal vase. We ordered a lassi for each one and we sat in the back of the store. Men came and went. All equally lovers of the lassi. We even returned the next day, before leaving Varanasi.



This city is famous for dairy products, such as light yogurt, but also sweets. I thought that if the milk of the city was so famous, then the Indian ice cream, the kulfi, made basically of thickened milk, flavored and frozen, should be very good. The three and a half days I spent in Varanasi, I searched desperately for each post, for each store, a sign that said "kulfi".

It was already in English or in Hindi, since in Uttar Pradesh they do not speak Bengali. But nothing. It was an impossible mission till I saw a red cart with images of Krishna and a bell in charge announcing the arrival of the kulfiwala. The base is milk that is boiled for a long time to lose water, or what comes to be the same, evaporated milk.

The ice cream based cream is presented with flavors of saffron, pistachio, roses or cardamom is dense and, despite the heat, never melts. This preparation is introduced in the molds to freeze them. Unlike traditional ice creams, they do not beat to introduce air and avoid crystallization. So the result is a much denser and more consistent ice cream.

Kulfi is a frozen dairy dessert originally from India, although it is also popular in places like Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and the Middle East. It began as a dessert that was served on special occasions such as weddings and other banquets. But now its consumption is widespread and it is common in the streets to see stalls of its vendors called kulfiwala.

The Matka Kulfi is the ice cream offered by the street vendors, known as Kulfi Wallahs. They keep the ice cream on ice with salt in clay pots known as matkas, which isolate them from the heat outside. They are served on a stick or on a leaf, and sprinkled with chopped pistachios, ground cardamom, saffron. The children wait enthusiastically for the kulfiwala or ice cream vendor that appears every afternoon in the popular neighborhoods.

It is a very rich ice cream, with a very fresh and appetizing mango flavor with a touch of cardamom. There are more than 50 eclectic flavors to choose from, including tamarind, mango, pomegranate and paan.

The other great culinary sensation of Varanasi was a pizzeria in Assi Ghat, a place that does not have anything special if it were not for this restaurant and its apple pie. The food is delicious, the pizza is cheap (120-150 rupees for a good pizza made in a stone oven, while in Calcutta a decent pizza costs at least 300 rupees). But the best, undoubtedly, is the apple pie with vanilla ice cream, a creamy ice cream, Italian style, which combines perfectly with the crunchy and moist heat of the cake and apple.

Of the cuisine of this city, the best known dish is the Banarasi Aloo Dum, a mixture of potatoes with spices and sauces, to eat with roti. Do not you want to try it? However, the best food experience in Varanasi was not this pizzeria on the Ghat, looking at the Ganges. It could have been nice, but why am I going to fool you. It is not, it is not at all. Varanasi does not have anything nice other than the ghats.

Seeing the city from a boat at sunrise is a different. It is an interesting experience, because of the motley and bizarre nature of the city's skyline. But from the city, to observe the brown river, the dirty earth, the gray sky, the old boats, and the nothingness on the other side of the river, there is nothing nice about it.

The best culinary experience was in our own hostel. We bought food from a restaurant outside (with the best palak paneer I've ever tasted), a few beers. After ordering some dishes from the hostel owner's wife, we settled upstairs, where there was a little terrace with a plastic table.

There, observing the stars in the sky, drinking cold beer, and listening to the background music that continuously repeated the "om" for at least half an hour, a different Varanasi was experienced. Every little detail made us intoxicated, from the color of the walls to when the light went out. We stayed in complete darkness, accompanied only by the "om" and a sky that cannot be seen in Calcutta. The stars seemed to move and dance for us.

On my return to Calcutta, my friends have asked me if I liked Varanasi. I was very clear that no, I did not like anything. I still have it clear. But now, after stopping to think to write on the blog, I realize that although I did not like it, it has given me a lot of intense moments that I will not forget. Perhaps that is the magic of Varanasi, beyond the cow dung, the plague of garbage, the jungle of the streets or the business of death.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Kaylan, this look mouth watering. Very refreshing and tempting. Thanks for sharing, it's something new to me.

    Have a nice week ahead.

    ReplyDelete