The sensational sweets of Mumbai
Although it is all too easy to lose yourself in the mouth-watering savoury options of the Indian menu - the flavoursome curries, aromatic biryanis and fragrant stews of the sub-continent have won the cuisine millions of fans the world over - it would be remiss indeed to forget the delectable desserts that are an integral part of the culinary culture.
One of the best places to indulge a sweet tooth in India is widely considered to be Mumbai, a richly historical city filled with the hustle of humanity and a stalwart of the Indian street food scene. Many of the choicest sweet stalls in Mumbai have been run by the same family for generations, the business passed along to relatives along with their favourite recipes for their best signature specialities. Just as in the rest of the country, the people of Mumbai have a predilection for all things sweet and the cooks of this notorious city have put their creative powers to god use, developing a range of delicious desserts to tempt the masses.
One of the more famous delicacies you might encounter in Mumbai is the popular Indian ice-cream kulfi. This dense and creamy dessert is created in dozens of imaginative flavours from the popular malai to the health-conscious sugar-free option. Kulfi is often poured into moulds and served on a stick, or pressed into blocks to be served on a leaf or in a clay pot.
A variation of this dessert is the enticing falooda. If kulfi is Indian ice-cream, falooda would be the equivalent of an ice-cream sundae, a decadent mix of sweetened milk, flavoured syrup, chopped nuts and dried fruit, a dollop of kulfi and, perhaps more unusually, thin strands of vermicelli - the trademark ingredient of falooda.
Another option for your Indian sugar fix is one of the darlings of the curry house dessert men, here in the UK. Gulabjamun are round, deep-fried dumplings that resemble doughnuts. Made from thickened milk and soaked in a sweet, sugary syrup, we defy anyone to eat just one. Gajarkahalwa is another Indian favourite, a rich pudding prepared from grated carrot, lashings of ghee and sugar and a sprinkling of dried fruit and nuts. If the idea of carrot in a dessert sounds a little odd, just think of the wonderful texture and flavour of carrot cake - some vegetables just work as a dessert.
A classic Mumbai dessert that has a string of religious and cultural connotations across India, is the thick rice pudding known as kheer. Flavoured with warming spices such as cardamom, this pudding utilises India’s most important grain to full effect and is often presented to the Hindu deities as prasad on important spiritual occasions.
Still feeling hungry? Fill yourself up on malpua, traditional Indian pancakes prepared with plenty of sweet, sticky syrup, or take a leaf from the royal kitchens of the old maharajas and sample a portion of shahitukra, a bread pudding named after royalty.
London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants offer mesmerising dessert lists that hold their own against the savoury options - just make sure you leave enough room.