Whenever I see a neon-lit sign proclaiming the Italian-sounding name Giani’s in Delhi’s shopping and residential areas, I am transported back in time. I spot hordes of people — young and old — jostling for ice cream inside, and often wonder if they know about its roots which lie in a little place in Chandni Chowk.
Much before the Giani’s ice cream chain came into being, there was Giani and his rabri falooda on Church Mission Road near Khari Baoli. Giani Gurcharan Singh came to Delhi from Faislabad, and set up what was then a small shop called Giani di Hatti in 1956. He added ice cream to the menu in 1978, but I always went there for his incredible rabri falooda.
In a tall glass, he would put a heap of falooda — smooth and slippery vermicelli noodles — and then add a generous dollop of rabri — thickened, sweetened milk full of chopped dried fruit. Some sugar syrup went into it, and then some crushed ice. You mixed it together with a spoon, ate some, and were in an instant state of bliss.
The rabri falooda, I am happy to say, is as good as ever. The rabri is thick, rich and has a delicious soft brown colour and the falooda complements it, giving you different textures and tastes. I love the creaminess of the rabri, the crunchiness of the dried fruit and the smoothness of the falooda.
Giani is also known for the two kinds of halwas it sells in winter — prepared with dal and carrots. The menu also includes some snacks such as chholey bhaturey. But its rabri falooda is arguably the best in town. When it first started selling home-made ice creams, there were three basic flavours — vanilla, strawberry and butterscotch. The ice cream chain called Giani’s — with an apostrophe — started in 2009 and is now, I can see, one of the most popular ice cream outlets across the city. And the flavours are as many as there are ideas. Just the other day, two friends of mine got into a major argument on their favourite flavours at Giani’s, and I fear they are still not talking to each other.
I have to confess I am not much of an ice cream man, but in my opinion, there is nothing like chilled rabri falooda. Give me the venerable old Giani’s fare in a glass, and I am enveloped in a mist of peace. The only sounds that I can hear are my own — slurp, slurp.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 litres full cream milk, 3 tbsp sugar, ½ tsp powdered green almond, 8-10 chopped almonds, 8-10 chopped pistachios, a pinch of saffron
Method: Heat the milk in a heavy-bottom pan. When it starts to boil, lower the heat and keep it on sim. Keep stirring the milk. When it thickens and you can see the malai forming, take a ladle and push the malai to the sides of the pan. Keep doing this. When the milk is 1/3rd of the original quantity, add the other ingredients, including the sugar. Mix very well. Scrape the malai from the sides and push it to the centre of the pan. Cook for a few minutes. Take it off the heat and let it cool. Then refrigerate, and serve chilled.