City Food - Game Wali Kulfi, Turkman Gate

City Food – Game Wali Kulfi, Turkman Gate

City Food – Game Wali Kulfi, Turkman Gate

Summertime heritage.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Citizen Nizam doesn’t think much of himself. “What is special about me?”—he asks, genuinely perplexed on being photographed.

Well, good sir, you happen to be among the last flag-bearers of an almost vanished summertime tradition.

Nizam is the merchant of game wali kulfi. It is a kulfi cart fitted usually with a roulette wheel. The customer pays a minimal amount of money (five rupees, 10 rupees) to try luck in the kulfi jackpot. The whole thing is very simple–toss the kancha into the spinning chakri and win as many kulfi sticks as the number on which the glass ball comes to rest. If it is the pinball setup instead, pray for the kancha to roll down into the highest value square. (Eight kulfis for the square chalk-marked eight; one kulfi for one!)

Bitter truth is these days even the kulfi is endangered. The city teems with ice-cream thelas stocked with industrial butterscotch crunch, nutty-buddy and chocolate chip, but rarely with the good old kulf, which tends to be made by the vendors themselves. That said, an occasional kulfi cart does pop up along a bazar alley. The probability of spotting the rarer game kulfi wale becomes higher in Old Delhi. (This reporter has heard of their sightings in West Delhi’s Tilak Nagar but hasn’t personally verified yet).

One long-ago summer noon, a game cart was spotted in Walled City’s Bulbuli Khana, a softy’s throw away from Empress Razia Sultan’s grave. The mohalla‘s child-citizens were hitting the kancha by pulling a spring pinned to a wooden block. The kancha would first shoot up in the opposite direction, hit the board’s boundary with great force, and then roll down into an array of pins where it might fall into one of the numbered spaces.

This afternoon, a kancha-and-pinball kulfi cart is chanced upon in Turkman Gate Bazar. Mobbed by children, it belongs to the aforementioned Nizam, who has been operating the summertime heritage for 21 years. Taking advantage of the vendor’s momentary distraction, a customer slyly puts the kancha into “number six” square. The all-seeing Nizam catches the brat red handed , thrusting just one kulfi stick towards him, and passes the kancha to the next kid. She plays honestly, winning six khoya malai kulfis.