As Aamir Icecreamwala tries explaining the appeal of the handmade ice creams produced by his family for five generations, he reaches for, what some might consider, a bizarre comparison. “It’s like Louis Vuitton or Rolls Royce,” he says, “Their products are perfect because they are handmade. That is why we have stuck to the same process of making ice creams for so many years.”
If you feel the urge to snort in disbelief, resist it until you have actually tried the ice cream made and sold at Taj Ice Cream, considered by many as the best in Mumbai. Made with milk, sugar and real fruits, their ice cream has been known to draw customers from as far afield as Thane, Pune and even Ujjain. Aamir speaks of a man from Ujjain who read about Taj Ice Cream in a local newspaper and brought his whole family to the shop when they were visiting the city. “He even brought a clipping of the article for us,” Aamir says, “And he was back two months later in the city, on business, but he couldn’t return without having some of our ice cream.”
For the 28-year-old, happy customers are always welcome, but they don’t necessarily come as a surprise. He’s grown up listening to customers reminisce about how they visited the shop as children with their parents and grandparents. “We have a customer who is about 50, and he sometimes visits with his father, who is 70 years old, and, the father has told me stories about how he would visit Taj with his father,” says Aamir.
Occupying a tiny space in bustling Bhendi Bazaar, Taj Ice Creams was opened by Aamir’s great-great-grandfather, Valiji Jalaji, in 1887. A native of Mandvi, Gujarat, Valiji initially sold milk sweetened with dates and cooled in earthen pots. Ice was still a luxury item, and ice cream was a delicacy enjoyed only by the Europeans or Indian elites. Around 1900, however — the family is unsure exactly when — Valiji managed to get a sancha to make ice creams. Sanchas were wooden barrels with copper canisters inside and they had to be turned by hand. The first ice cream sold at the shop was a mixed fruit flavour made of chickoo and pineapple — an instant hit. “Although our top seasonal sellers are mango and sitaphal,” says Aamir. Ice cream made in such huge sanchas — some of which produced 50 kilos at a time — was soon being served at important functions across the city.
The steadfast loyalty of their customers have ensured that there is strict quality control to match expectations. This is why the ice creams remain hand-churned. Aamir says that there was a brief flirtation with electricity run machines about 25 years ago, but the resulting ice cream was not well-received. “It simply wasn’t the same,” he says. Aamir’s father Hatim, who was in charge then, decided to stick to the old, wooden sanchas for good — and it’s a decision Aamir stands by even now. Taj Ice Cream is now available on all delivery platforms and Aamir is hoping to open one more outlet in another part of the city.
The massive canisters that once catered to the demands of weddings and parties have been brought out and have already been used to cater to a wedding that saw 3,000 guests in attendance. “Demand has been rising every year, and last Ramadan, we had to shut down early for the first three days because we simply ran out of ice cream. Now that we’ve served 3,000 people at a wedding, I’m confident that we can meet all demands, and that we are ready to expand,” says Aamir.