City Food – Fig & Honey Ice-Cream, India International Center
Legends of a legend.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The chef is refusing. He wants the recipe to remain a secret.
Chef Vijay Kumar Thukral is a living landmark of Delhi’s iconic India international Center, and the recipe he is declining to give is of a major culinary monument. The venerable man is so possessive about the fabled delicacy that he didn’t even disclose its secret in the book he co-authored a decade ago—‘Secrets From the Kitchen-Fifty Year of Culinary Experience at the India International Centre.’
One of the most special dishes in one of Delhi’s most exclusive members-only social spaces, the fig & honey served at the IIC’s so-named Dining Hall is arguably Delhi’s best ice-cream, a fact that can be stamped and attested by its many loyalists. (If not a member of the IIC, please pester member-friends to treat you to it.)
While the Dining Hall’s distinguished patrons—think tank experts, historians, professors, economists, lawyers, journalists, publishers, retired bureaucrats, bhoole-bhisre politicians and other miscellaneous newsmakers—are radical enough to exchange dissenting notes on the IIC’s changing traditions, they remain unanimously conservative in their admiration for the fig & honey. Other respectable desserts exist in the menu, though, including the delicious ginger pudding with hot custard sauce, or the classic gulab Jamun, absolutely divine when served steaming hot.
IIC’s fig & honey traces its origins to 1990, when Chef Vijay created the recipe with tips from the IIIC’s then catering consultant, the Cordon Bleu-trained Bhicoo J. Manekshaw. Since then, the ice-cream has been commanding a position of privilege in the Dining Hall, where mobile phone gupshup, collarless shirts, and children under eight stay banned. Indeed, the suffocating effect of the oppressive rules is somewhat softened by the tender sweetness of this ice cream’s honeyed cream. While the fig, said to be Queen Cleopatra’s favourite fruit, stays longer in the mouth—its aftereffect surprisingly transitory, lingering more like a dream too satisfying to be substantial.
This evening, as the Dining Hall is set to throw open its doors to the diners, Chef Vijay suddenly condescends to give away the ice-cream’s recipe. “First, prepare the custard sauce, keep it in fridge for eight hours, then add cream and condensed milk, and finally mix fig and honey.”
Chef Vijay enigmatically smiles and says, “Andaz se (to taste).”
PS: Seen in the pic with the chef—Dining Hall personnel Davinder Chaudhary, Sandeep Katoch, Suryakant Shukla, and Mukesh Rana.