International Ice Cream

Introducing Kulfi, India's favorite popsicle

The idea that spicy food cools you down has always eluded me. Schvitzing over a bowl of goat curry in the sweltering humidity recently, I strove for the nirvana I have heard so much about, but being hot made me hot. And lightheaded. I suppose I have no choice but to accept my shortcomings as an eater—I still can’t convince myself that goat curry is refreshing.

Sweating cools down your skin, which is partly why so much great hot food comes from hot places: India, Mexico, Vietnam, and so on. But the heat in those cuisines is usually carefully balanced with cool foods like yogurt or pickled vegetables. Perhaps this is a detail outsiders tend to miss. In Jackson Heights, where I had binged on the curry, another summer snack was impossible to overlook, or misunderstand.

Kulfi is a ubiquitous Southeast Asian treat—dense, creamy "ice cream" flavored with mango, pistachios, cardamom, or simply malai (cream). In most cases, at least in New York, the ice cream is formed into a triangular shape and made into a popsicle, perfect for street eating. Along 37th Avenue, coolers are set up outside many stores and restaurants, and the kulfi go for a dollar. I sampled a few brands and found them very similar in sweetness and texture. There is no air whipped into the cream, as in Western ice cream. Instead it is simply boiled until it thickens, then frozen.

Kulfi: Perfect for summer eating
photo: Nina Lalli
Kulfi: Perfect for summer eating

Kulfi can be found in Manhattan as well, and these are aguably the better versions. The restaurant New Naimat Kada, just south of 28th street on Lexington Avenue, has brought in a kulfi "specialist" for the summer. Mohammad Nazim, who learned to make kulfi growing up in Pakistan. Every morning, he makes 100 popsicles by hand, using milk, whole cardamom, sugar, pistachios, and walnuts. He does not make any other flavors. His kulfi, which are very thick, with coarsely ground nuts embedded in the cream, cost $2. But, he says "They don't know anything about this in Jackson Heights".

 
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