For anyone who’s had the chance to walk through Mumbai’s famous Crawford Market and witness the labyrinth of traders each calling out different rates, they will testify that it is a different kind of magic that the place holds.
But what many are unaware of is that behind this very populous street, there’s something more iconic that awaits.
The Bhendi Bazaar, one of the most well-known areas in South Bombay, is akin to a chapter from a history textbook. It remains unchanged with time.
But the aura of this quaint market space isn’t its only pride. As you will soon discover, hidden in plain sight is a store as old as time itself, that makes ice cream even Madhubala couldn’t stop bragging about.
On any given day, the Taj Icecream shop witnesses hordes queuing up to get a scoop of luxury, and what fans call ‘the creamiest ice cream ever’.
You may think this is something of an exaggeration, but, history never lies.
A migrant comes to Bombay to sell fruits
It was the year 1887. Valilji Jalaji, a gentleman from Kutch, Gujarat, had just come to the city. Old Bombay, as you know it, was a traders’ paradise, and like the rest, Jalaji had big dreams, albeit few resources.
So, he began selling fruits and soon to the jelly-like mix he began adding milk. Come evening and traders and business people alike would stop by Jalaji’s spot to have the feast of the day.
As Aamir Icecreamwala, the sixth generation owner of the business, tells The Better India, “The original menu was bite-sized pieces of pineapple, grapefruit and chikoo mixed in milk and dates and served cold in clay pots.” Ice cream was still a far-fetched idea as this was a time when ice was something of a luxury.
To add to this, electricity was only enjoyed by a fair few.
Thus, for Jalaji, making an ‘ice cream’ wasn’t much of an option and he stuck with the concoction of fruit with milk. No one was complaining as the sweet snack was nothing short of heavenly.
But when ice freely become available, Jalaji wasted no time in converting the sweet mix into what is today known as the famous ‘Taj Icecream’.
“My family has continued the legacy of Jalaji and it has passed down from generation to generation,” says Aamir, adding that he feels blessed to be running the legendary venture today. “I see it as fate. In my grandfather’s generation, he was the brother to choose to continue the venture. Similarly, in my father’s generation, out of five brothers, he was the one who continued it.”
An ice cream that’s a class apart
But, at Taj Icecream, it isn’t just the beautiful tale of the legacy that sets it apart. The ice creams here are legendary themselves. An array of 16 flavours awaits anyone who makes the trip to Bhendi Bazaar.
These include seasonal flavours such as alphonso mango, custard apple, strawberry, and also the original pineapple, chikoo, sweet melon, etc.
However, Aamir says the mixed fruit ice cream continues to be a hit.
A question that plagues many is that in the maze of so many heritage ice cream parlours in Mumbai, how has the Taj Icecream continued to retain its legacy?
“We still abide by the same technique that Jalaji introduced,” says Aamir. “Ice creams are manufactured in wooden barrels and hand churned to give it the creamy texture. The fruit mixed with cream is then poured into a ‘sancha’ or a copper canister which is from Jalaji’s time making not only our recipe a legendary one but also our technique.”
Once churned for a couple of hours, the ice cream is ready to be devoured.
“Don’t go by my word,” he says, “Taste to believe.” He adds that they guarantee that every fruit bit can be tasted as the sweet dish coats your palate.
Aamir isn’t the only one who says this. The internet is filled with people who have tried, tasted, and lived to tell the tale of the silky and rich ice creams.
While one review reads “hand-made most awesome ice cream at the most affordable price”, another reads, “This is by far the best ice cream I have ever tasted in my entire life”. Some reviews even applaud the business for carrying on the tradition of still using ‘sanchas’ to churn the ice cream, saying that it is this that makes the experience more magical.
Aamir says they also see customers from all across Mumbai and India. “We have customers who visit us from Kuwait, London and even Paris just so they can take the ice cream back for their families to taste,” he adds.
As a family, they cherish memories of serving famous personalities. “My father has served Madhubala,” says Aamir. “She would order ice creams frequently from us and rave about it. We have even served Johnnie Walker, Farooq Abdullah when he would make trips to Bombay and visit the shop.”
But Aamir says, what really makes them happy is when elderly aunties and uncles visit the shop and reminisce the times they would come as little girls and boys with their parents for an ice cream treat.
“They eat the first scoop of ice cream and say ‘It still tastes the same’ and this for us is assurance that we are continuing the legacy well,” says Aamir.
He adds that their products are natural, containing no preservatives and colouring and made with three ingredients, milk, sugar, and fruit.
Today, the venture is taken care of by him along with his dad Hatim and five workers and sees a sale of around 500 kg of ice cream a month. While earlier the venture would see a sale of more than 1000 kg of ice cream every month, due to newer brands and rising competition, the sales have gone down, says Aamir.
The price ranges from Rs 80 a cup to Rs 700‐1000 for a kg.
As for what the future looks like, he says they are intent on sticking to the hand-churned ice creams, no matter what, since that has been the family secret.
“We do not want to introduce automation into the process as we feel our clients love the creaminess of the ice cream that owes to the churning by hand.”
The family is also looking at opening in more cities across India, and in other parts of Mumbai too. “But for now our store in South Bombay is our heritage,” says Aamir as he busies himself doling out scoops of heaven for the guests of the day.
Edited by Yoshita Rao