Rocking the ice-cream float: Maska Maarke with Kunal Vijayakar

From giant sundaes at Yankee Doodle to artisanal treats with a twist, fans of #frozen have a lot to celebrate in Mumbai.
Icestasy is turning festival flavours into frozen delights, with delicious Modak, Puran Poli (above) and Motichoor Ladoo ice-creams.
Icestasy is turning festival flavours into frozen delights, with delicious Modak, Puran Poli (above) and Motichoor Ladoo ice-creams.
Updated on Nov 09, 2018 07:41 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByKunal Vijayakar

I feel like the scriptwriter of a 1970s Hindi film. Succumbing every so often to their most commonly used narrative device — the flashback. That sequence where the narrator dreamily revealed something from his past we didn’t know, or maybe recalled a forgotten person or place. Being the nostalgia nut that I am, I just cannot turn down a chance for some sentimentality.

I am dedicating this column to ice-cream, but I’m doing it through a bus ride. The ride I am talking about is the most scenic route a BEST bus was ever assigned, a ride on the upper deck of double-decker No 123. Its route started at the now defunct Ganga-Jamuna Cinema at Tardeo, and the rush was to catch the absolute front seats on the upper level. The bus quickly wended its way to Chowpatty and Marine Drive via Nana Chowk, past Wilson College. After that it was a slow, swaying cruise, with the sea breeze blowing in your face all the way through seven or eight stops on Marine Drive, till the bus turned towards Colaba.

Soon after the conductor rang his little bell to signal our departure, the first big junction was Nana Chowk. And here stood the iconic Jai Hind Cold Drink House. It was a large, breezy, high-ceilinged Irani restaurant, its walls lined with glass-fronted cabinets filled with scores of dessert bowls in every pastel colour.

Apsara still serves up some of the quirkiest varieties, including Pani Puri (above), Chikki and Tamarind ice-creams.
Apsara still serves up some of the quirkiest varieties, including Pani Puri (above), Chikki and Tamarind ice-creams.

In the centre of the café was a ceramic fountain and at the far end a modern-looking glass-door refrigerator. The shelves of that cooling box were filled with bowls of psychedelic jelly, glasses of frothy lassi, and ready to gulp tumblers of milkshake in every natural and unnatural flavour. Jai Hind shut down many years ago, but any Parsi who grew up in south Mumbai will remember the deliciousness of their ice-creams and faloodas.

I usually boarded the bus just ahead of Cream Centre at Chowpatty. In the early ’70s, Cream Centre was one of the few independent manufacturers of ice-cream. Theirs was creamy and rich. Though the flavours were simple and familiar — Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla and Kesar Pista — they were served in chunky German silver bowls that arrived at your table frosted, beads of water trickling down the sides, often two or three scoops of your favourite flavour garnished with nuts or doused in chocolate sauce or both, with a triangular wafer biscuit stuck into the top, like the sail of a ship in a creamy sea.

The milkshakes came to the table in what looked like a 12-inch-tall silver vase, the milk at the top whipped to perfection. They still make the ice-cream, though it’s now branded and has expanded.

One bus stop away, along the fence that separates the railway tracks from Opera House, is Bachelorr’s. What started as a fruit stall in the late 1930s on Chowpatty is still a well-known and popular ice-cream stall. Pretty much everyone who has driven along Marine Drive has stopped there and had their Sitafal, Strawberry or Mango milkshakes and ice creams — or tried their chilli, or tomato, flavours. Theirs are still some of the richest fresh-fruit ice-creams you can gorge on.

As the 123 lumbered past the hallowed gymkhana grounds opposite Marine Drive, where the Intercontinental now stands was Natraj Hotel. And in the compound of Natraj opened what could well be called Bombay’s first ice-cream parlour — Yankee Doodle. There were tall sundaes, a choice of toppings and an unbelievably great choice of flavours. Young college kids (yes, I too once upon a time) thronged those semi-circular tiled benches, to order large sundaes or their popular Chic-Choc (a Swiss cake roll with layers of ice cream, dipped in hardened chocolate, topped with rich chocolate sauce and garnished with nuts) and eat it while watching the sun go down over the sea.

Where the bus turned towards Churchgate station, right at the corner, opposite Talk of the Town or what is now Pizza by the Bay, many years later came Baskin Robbins. It’s still there and still makes the best Belgian Dark Chocolate Ice-Cream. But the icon is K Rustoms. Opened in 1953, the simple ice-cream and lassi shop still operates as it did 50 years ago, with deadpan bluntness and a matter-of-fact rudeness. But they had a winner. The Ice-Cream Sandwich. Slabs of Pista, Mango, Rose, Chikoo and more unique flavours like guava, green mango, coconut-pista, toffee and ginger-lemon, served between two wafer biscuits wrapped in a strip of butter paper. It’s still standing, as are the young collegians and tourists who continue to go there.

As the bus turned into Flora Fountain, near Dalal Street was Friendly Ice-Cream. The reason I’d like to mention Friendly is because in the days when Vanilla was just a drop from a bottle of essence, Friendly’s vanilla tasted of real vanilla. It was a rich off-white colour, hand churned and delicious.

From Colaba, the 123 drove all the way into the belly of Navy Nagar, towards the Sassoon Docks and Afghan Church, passing Kailash Parbat, whose Malai Kulfi Falooda is still so rich that you can put on a kilo just looking at it. The ride ended at RC Church.

I’ve missed a few old and new joints in my list, and I think I need to mention the rich and the creamy contribution of ice-creams such as Natural’s, Apsara, New Kulfi Centre (Chowpatty) and Taj on Mohammad Ali Road, to name a few.

But the new generation is rocking the ice-cream float, with young entrepreneurs like Alyssa Chesson, who at Bono Boutique dared with flavours like Salted Caramel, Blue Cheese Honey and Dark Chocolate Italian Truffle Oil Ice-Cream. Or my favourite Sanmish Marathe, whose Icestasy Handcrafted Ice-Creams is converting every conceivable Indian festival taste into a froxen delight. I started by tasting his Motichoor Ladoo Ice-Cream, which was luscious and granular, much like a real ladoo. For the Ganesh festival they created a Modak Ladoo Ice-Cream, loaded with freshly made coconut stuffing. They have successfully managed to convert favourites like Puran Poli, Awahi Mewa, Goolkund, Paan and Filter Coffee into most mouth-watering ice-creams, not to mention their Fennel, Popcorn with Caramel & Cheese, and Banana Chip flavours. This Diwali, Sanmish had me taste his Chakli and Besan Ladoo ice-creams, both great tastes for the festive season.

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