K Rustom opened its doors to the public in Churchgate in 1953. Since then it has been a favourite amongst ice-cream lovers partly, because of a spectrum of delicate flavours and partly because it is one of the last places in Mumbai that serves the ice-cream sandwich. Run by the same family for the last 63 years, K Rustom is an institution, serving blackcurrant, rum and raisin, walnut praline and even paan flavoured ice-cream sandwiches.
K Rustom Ice Cream, 88, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate, Mumbai 400 020. Phone: 022 2282 1768
I’m devastated. I’ve just heard the three words I dread the most: “There’s no blackcurrant.”
The lady at the counter gives me a smile, part apologetic, part pitiful. She waits expectantly for exactly seven seconds and then turns to attend to a boisterous bunch of college students. First timers, I think as they scan the colour-blocked poster menu, dithering between roasted almond crunch and walnut crunch.
I don’t recall my first visit to K Rustom, but the iconic ice cream sandwich has been a constant companion. Everything worth celebrating – or forgetting – demands the presence of a blackcurrant ice cream sandwich. From birthdays and first dates to exam results and heartbreaks, K Rustom’s chunky slab of melting goodness flanked by crispy, fluorescent wafer biscuits makes it all sweeter. And I’m not the only one with a sentimental attachment.
The ice cream parlour occupies one corner in a row of shuttered shops, looked over by a dilapidated signboard in black and red. When I see that board and black collapsible grill, I think back to the time when K Rustom was a provision store. I picture a group of cousins huddled together in front – the teenage boys in their striped shirts and bellbottoms, the girls in pigtails – licking the ice cream dripping from their fingers, trickling right down to their elbows. My father is the one with an unruly mop of hair, eating his pineapple ice cream sandwich in a manner that’s methodical yet urgent. It’s day two of a cricket test match at Brabourne Stadium, and the cousins are sweating in the April sun, waiting for their uncle to pick them up from outside Gate 10.
K RUSTOM IS SINGLE-HANDEDLY KEEPING THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH ALIVE AT A TIME WHEN EVEN KULFIS AND FALOODASSEEM TO HAVE GONE OUT OF FASHION.
Not much has changed since then. The dexterity and speed with which my father polishes off his ice cream without leaving a single stain on his crisp white linen shirt is unparalleled. It’s a skill he has passed on to me, along with his unwavering love for all forms of ice cream, but especially the sandwich, which is a dying breed in Bombay.
K Rustom is single-handedly keeping the ice cream sandwich alive at a time when even kulfis and faloodas seem to have gone out of fashion. It refuses to adapt to the times and is adamant about sticking to what it knows best, undeterred by the competition cropping up at every corner. The unassuming parlour on one of Mumbai’s busiest streets sits just as discreetly as it has since 1953. The walls inside look like they’ve worn the same coat of paint for 60-odd years, and the water cooler has been around since I can remember. Cold, industrial freezers store stacks and stacks of evenly cut slabs, the flavours listed out on handwritten signs and multi-coloured posters. There are no sturdy tables and plush seats for the customers often forming a serpentine queue in the summer months. The row of flimsy plastic chairs against the wall, flanked by a dustbin on one end and the water cooler on the other, is where you’ll hear about clandestine affairs, college crushes, train troubles and weather woes as the cold treats loosen the tongue of many a Bombaywalla.
I’ve never seen an advertisement for K Rustom, print, radio, television or otherwise. It’s one of those open secrets that’s passed on from one generation to the next, much like the institution in question. One bite of the soft, creamy blackcurrant ice cream laden with crunchy purple pellets is all it takes to turn one into an addict.
“What’s your favourite? The one that isn’t available?”
I’m snapped out of my fruity reverie by a kind-looking, bespectacled gentleman leaning over the metal freezer. He’s placed his order and has the appropriate number of notes ready in his right hand. A regular, I think as I watch the lady at the counter deftly pack a rum and raisin slab between two wafers and wrap it with butter paper and a thin tissue.
“Blackcurrant,” I answer.
“Try the rum and raisin. It’s my favourite. And bitter chocolate.”
I don’t look too convinced. He takes his ice cream sandwich with one hand and pays lady with the other. “The good news is, whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. And you can always have blackcurrant next time. Bye. Have a good day.”
I did have a good day, made even better by bitter chocolate and a healthy dose of eavesdropping. Another day, another flavour, another K Rustom memory.
Feature photograph by Suruchi Maira