City Food - Ice Shikanji, Around Town

City Food – Ice Shikanji, Around Town

City Food - Ice Shikanji, Around Town

Ice, its long form.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Artist-types always crave to turn life’s ordinary experiences into something sublime. There are also those who stoically labour through their profession, without realising that they too are a part of something unusual, if not outright artistic.

Like Delhi’s summertime shikanji wale.

Anyone can make shikanji at home by squeezing lemon into sugary/salted water. A more elaborate preparation however exists in the city streets, surfacing widely during heatwave-like conditions. This is not about the refrigerated water trolley, whose vendor rustle out shikanji the usual way. It is the old-fashioned shikanji machine—comprising of a tall cylindrical vessel wrapped in the attention-grabbing red cloth.

The cool thing about this machine’s icy shikanji is not really the shikanji, but the iciness—it is so fresh!

The vessel contains a steel jar filled with the regular sugary shikanji. The jar’s lid has a handle called kulfa, which the shikanji man turns both sides in quick successions, semi-rotating the jar. The continual movement causes the swirling drink within to reach freezing point.

“Hum baraf se baraf banate hain,” explains shikanji vendor Islam, stationed near the Red Fort, his cart decked with plastic poppies. The hollow space between the jar and the outer vessel, the friendly man points out, is packed with chunks of “baraf-factory” ice that further cools the shikanji.

Churning out fresh-cold shikanji for hurry-hurry passers-by isn’t easy, Islam says. Holding the kulfa with both hands, he rotates the weighty jar around the vessel many times over with great energy, vigorously shaking the shikanji inside. He suddenly pauses, and lifts the lid, showing a super-thin sheet of transparent ice floating atop the drink. “This ice happened because of me,” he asserts.

The shikanji machine, sold in Lal Kuan for 5,500 rupees, is often used by vendors of other summertime drinks as well. Mahesh, who operates in Kinari Bazar, prepares a great quantity of mango shake at his home in the morning, after which he hits the market lanes with the drink filled in this same sort of vessel. He stirs the kulfa all day long, keeping the mango shake cold with fresh ice.

As for Islam’s shikanji, the first icy sip itself is like magic—immediately awakening the heat-stricken senses into reinvigorated alertness.