As the mercury levels start a downward trend again in Kashmir, people take to Matka Kulfi, the traditional ice-cream before the summer ends.
A mammoth Matka or the earthen vessel holding frustum shaped cones amidst crisp icy blocks, buckets filled with tangles of white noodles, a traditional bowl, wooden spoons all laid in a pattern in front of a bunch of men sitting atop the carts, is a sight that catches the attention of any onlooker at one of the bustled spots in Shehr-e-Khaas or Down Town area of Srinagar.
Donning traditional looks, a group of men including both young and elderly can be seen selling one of the most sought after summer delicacies in the valley, the traditional Matka Kulfi or frozen Ice Cream at Boher Kadal, Srinagar.
Originated in the Mughal era during 16th century, the word Kulfi originally means a ‘covered cup’.
It is traditionally prepared by evaporating sweetened and flavoured milk via slow cooking with continuous stirring and then added with flavours like cream, rose, mango, cardamom saffron, and pistachio etc.
Aqib Ahmad in his early twenties is trying his best to clone the skills of his father at the trade. A 10th standard drop out assists his father father, Ghulam Nabi , a veteran kulfi maker while serving the customers.
“I start my day in the afternoon. From getting ice cells from the ice outlet to pushing the matka laden hand carts through nearby alleys, by 4 pm, out cart is ready to serve the frozen delicacy,” says Aqib.
Each afternoon, a beeline of kulfi carts turns a spot light on the mediaeval era market in the Shehr-e-khas.
People in droves flock to these Kulfi sellers for the frozen treat. While some have a privilege of having the frozen treat within the comforts of their conveyance, many others have to wait for their turn to sit under the shades of adjacent bus stand to taste the icy dessert. People from neighbourhood prefer to taste the treat from the cozy environs of their homes.
“In summers there is a usually a good rush of customers. But these days , the unprecedented number of people are coming for this Kulfi,” Jaja , a middle aged Kulfi walla says.
“Whenever I visit my in-laws during summers, I bring my kids to this Kulfi spot,” says Mushtaq Ahmad from neighbouring district of Pulwama, while enjoying the bowls of kulfi along with his family inside a car.
Despite an ever growing list of modern day dairy desserts all around, Matka Kulfi stills holds a post in the daily life style of a common Kashmiri, particularly among the inhabitants of Shehr-e-Khaas.
“I have tasted a lot of softy cones, ice cream bars or other diary desserts available in the market, but this frozen kulfi has a taste of its own. We would often walk kilometers together from Eidgah area to taste this delicacy here,” says Junaid, seated at the adjacent bus stand, enjoying the frozen diary dessert along with his few friends.
“In addition to normal business from my vending cart, I get many orders for marriage parties and other functions. I have to hire two to three workers every season to cater to the demand,” Jaja says, adding however that the work being seasonal in nature lasts for few months only.
With the contagion still in air, many people use the take-away service. For last two seasons, the trend of taking away the frozen kulfi in a packed bowls has increased.
“I prefer take-away service, as it is still a risk to be a part of gatherings or groups,” says Mymoona, a health worker from Srinagar, while buying a pack of Kulfi at Bohri Kadal.
According to Aqib, the hardwork and resources behind the making of matka kulfi are immense. It needs patience and determination to keep on stirring the boiling milk for hours together on a low flame. After boiling the milk for 4-6 hours, the condensate mixed with a variety of spices and flavor is carefully filled in the frustum cones, which are left in ice to freeze.
The semi-condensed milk is placed in a Matka or an earthen pot that provides insulation from the external heat and slows down the melting of ice. Kulfi prepared in this manner is hence called Matka Kulfi.
Although with time, the traditional cutlery used for the Matka Kulfi has changed. Modernization sees the earthen bowl replaced by disposable bowls and spoons.