City Food – Chuski, Around Town
Season’s ice candy.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Of course, there are more sophisticated options to beat this horrible Delhi heat— smoothies, gelatos, cold-pressed juices and coconut water. But sucking on chuski, perhaps, is the rawest way of surviving the miserable month of June.
A tightly packed ball of crushed ice, chuski is flavoured with syrup, usually of artificial flavours (must be admitted!), which can be sweet and tart as orange and lemon, or spicy as kala khatta. It is packed on a stick and is served in a plastic glass through which the brash colours peek out at you temptingly.
Some chuskis also come in fresh fruit flavours. SSK in Kamla Nagar Market serves an excellent mango version. Chuski ka Chaska in Netaji Subhash Place had coffee chuski but sadly the place shut down permanently. Don’t lose heart, though. There’s a young pavement vendor called Ashok who hangs about Chandni Chowk’s Central Baptist Church doling out truly amazing bel-flavoured chuski.
Surprisingly, not all folks are chuski fans. Like cookbook writer Pushpesh Pant. The Gurugram-based author dismisses the poor icy heap as a “modern phenomenon.” The gentleman explained that in the old times, people in Old Delhi used to have kulfi, not chuski. “Kulfi on the stick was healthy and wholesome because it was condensed milk. Chuski, on the other hand, is mere sugared ice with no milk content. It is artificially coloured and flavoured. Plus, chuski has its dangers. You don’t know where the ice is from.”
And yet it’s greatly loved.
Mr Pant’s response: “Forbidden delights double the fun. The rule applies to chuski. Its name also rhymes well with muski, a naughty smile…”
In summer, the heat-stricken chuskiwallas park their carts in crowded places—outside the Metro stations, adjacent to rickshaw stands or in the lanes of upscale bazaars such as the M-Block market in Greater Kailash-I. In the hygiene-conscious posh areas, you might find vendors using mineral water to make the ice. The tall bottles of coloured syrup line the margin of the cart while the ice grater, sometimes with bells tied on the handle, noisily churns in the center.
As the weather gets unbearably hot, the most natural impulse is to yearn for a glass of chilled water. The problem with water is that it goes down the throat too quickly, which feels dry once again. The chuski’s crunchy, silvery snow stays inside the mouth for longer. It freezes the tongue, chills the teeth and numbs the cavities. Its iciness makes you deliciously uncomfortable, sending a trembling through the spine and, for a moment, you yearn for the summer to last longer.
And yes, please try the chuskiwalla who stands next to Madras Café in Green Park Market.
Indulging in a summer treat, despite the risks