City Food – Kamruddin’s Chuski, South Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Hot afternoon. Empty lane. Kamruddin enters. A young girl runs after his cart, asking the man for his signature treat, which she calls “baraf ka gola”—a ball of crushed ice on a wooden stick.
Also known as chuski, the pavement speciality enters our world every year this time, though last year the successive lockdowns kept it away. The ice lolly is actually an unsung part of a vast buffet that keeps Delhi cool in summer: smoothies, gelatos, juices, kulfis, nimbu soda, roohafza sherbet, chaas, lassi, jaljeera, sugarcane juice, coconut water etc. The rendezvous with chuski, though, makes for a more intense elemental experience. You are literally eating the ice, composed of minuscule crystals, as if it was just scraped out of a Himalayan glacier.
Chuski-seller Kamruddin is polite and restrained. He swiftly grates the ice on his special apparatus called “gola machine”, and addresses the little girl with the formal “aap” instead of “tum” or “tu,” inquiring about her preferred flavour — she picks kala khatta.
It must be said that many chuski vendors resort to artificial flavouring. Kamruddin is one of them, he admits. It’s also true that some chuski establishments use natural flavours — a stall in Kamla Nagar serves a mango version during the mango season. There was a coffee chuski stall in Netaji Subhash Place, but alas, not many liked the combo. Pavement vendor Ashok, who hangs about Chandni Chowk’s Central Baptist Church, doles out refreshing bel-flavoured chuski. An air-conditioned Connaught Place restaurant serves chuski margarita, but the absence of the street takes away half the fun.
Kamruddin’s no-fuss version is the one you are likely to find across the city alleys. The first bite is the most striking, as it sends a rush of cold waves across the body.
A typical chuski cart, too, is a sight. The tall glass bottles of multicoloured syrups are lined up along both sides, while the old-fashioned ice grater is always of wood. Kamruddin has covered his block of ice in a grey handkerchief. He operates in south Delhi neighbourhoods, especially in Khirki village. “In winters, I sell peanuts,” he says, as he goes ahead pushing his cart.
Glacier on cart