KOCHI: One day, Shafeek K was in a nostalgic mood. Soon, an image popped into his mind.
It was the lunch break at the NSS High School at Ottapalam. As he stepped out of the class to go to the ground, he could hear the tinkle of a bell. With other schoolboys, he ran to the gate. It was a man pushing a cart. He was selling kulfis. “It cost Rs 1 at that time,” says Shafeek. “Four of us shared one kulfi stick.” He began to have it regularly.
For Shafeek, a lifelong love for kulfi was engendered. This was deepened when his Delhi-based uncle K U Kutty would come for his annual visit. “Whenever he came home, he would bring Bengali sweets like sandesh, rosagollas and malpuas,” he says. So Shafeek developed a sweet tooth. As an entrepreneur, he was thinking of starting a business when suddenly he got the idea of starting a kulfi shop in Kochi.
But he did not know anything about how to make kulfis and whether the business could be a viable one. “But I knew that there are not many kulfi shops in Kochi,” he says.
So Shafeek went to the best kulfi shop in Delhi called Krishna Di Kulfi. “They have been running it for 60 years,” he says “It is a small area but there is always a huge crowd.” The owners allowed Shafeek into the kitchen so that he could have an idea of how it is made. Then, through a friend, Shafeek met a dessert chef in Delhi called Raju Bhagel, who was willing to relocate to Kochi.
Later, Shafeek flew to Mumbai and wandered around the kulfi shops on Chowpatty beach and spoke to many people. He gained more insight into the business. Thereafter, he returned to Kochi, mulled over his experiences and decided to take the plunge. Shafeek decided to set up his shop at the Lulu Mall, to ensure that he has brand visibility. “Let’s face it, the mall is a very popular place,” he says.
The ‘Kulfi Shop’ had a soft launch three months ago. The 320 sq.ft. outlet is just near the Kochi Metro skywalk. “It is an apt location, as many people use the Metro these days,” says Shafeek. “They see our sign and tend to stop.”
There are more than 50 items on offer. These include the Malai, Pista, Mango, Meetha Pan, Sitafal and Coffee Walnut. The prices range from Rs 50 to Rs 150. The most expensive is the traditional kulfi kept in a mud dish called the matka. Fruits like mango and guava are also added. Other kulfis have rose petals and gulab jamun. Green chilly is also popular.
As the name implies it is a mix of chillies and cream. “But the most popular is the four-in-one kulfi,” says Shafeek. “This has mango, guava, sapota and strawberry and costs Rs 120. But we keep changing the combinations.” Expectedly, the crowd is the most during the weekends and on festive occasions. Surprisingly, there are a lot more Malayalis than North Indians or outsiders. “That is because Malayalis have become curious to try it,” says Shafeek. “I am happy to say that many are returning customers.”
As he talks, he points at a middle-aged Arab with his wife, wearing a black hijab, and a small boy.
“They have been repeat customers for a while now,” he says. Another customer is electronics engineer Amit Das (name changed) from Aluva. He told Shafeek that when he asked a friend where to get the best kulfi in India the latter mentioned the Mumbai Kulfi shop. So Amit went to Mumbai and had it.
Then he came to the Kulfi Shop and tasted their products. He told Shafeek, “I have to say yours is much better. I like it a lot.”
The good news is that the kulfis are not outsourced. Instead, Shafeek has set up a six-member team overseen by chef Raju at a location in Edapally to make the kulfis. The milk is boiled for eight hours, and to the residual cream is added sugar, fruits, and almonds. Then it is put in a freezer at minus 12 degrees Centigrade for several hours. When it is brought to the shop, Shafeek tastes most of them. “I am trying to ensure that the quality is maintained at all times,” he says. Thus far, the shop is doing well. “Whenever I look at the kulfis, I feel a sense of happiness,” says Shafeek. “Maybe, it is a reminder of the enjoyment I had in my childhood having them.”
Origin of Kulfi
Kulfi is derived derived from the Persian Qufli (covered cup). The dessert originated during the rule of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. Dense evaporated milk was mixed with pistachios and saffron, placed in metal cones and put in slurry ice. In historical accounts of that time, there was a mention of the use of salpeter for refrigeration