Ice cream is an indulgence that is strongly associated with nostalgia for most of us. From being taken out for ice cream by your folks when you were having a bad day to have your first milk shake with your high school sweet heart, the memories of Vanilla Cups, Chocolate Cornetto and Strawberry Shakes are etched in to our minds.
Flavours have a way of lingering in our minds long after we have grown up and for those of South Asian origin, aromatic spices are an integral part of our sensory memory. Even while we are flitting through life, the smell of cardamom being toasted off, the slightly sweet bark like texture cinnamon, the soft floral smell of rose that balances out a sweet dessert, are all ingrained into our minds.
Intrigued by the potential of ice creams to be more than the classic flavours and drawing from her own childhood memories, Pooja Bhavishi created Malai, an ice cream company with flavours inspired by aromatic spices and South Asian ingredients, based in Brooklyn, New York. The spice infused flavours of Malai are familiar to many people, even if they have not before seen it in these combinations, or in ice cream. Many people try their ice creams and are blown away by the memories and associations that is brought up by them. According to Bhavishi, a great example is the Toasted Nutmeg flavour about which she had her own anecdote - “My family always makes kheer around Diwali time, and flavours it with nutmeg. I knew that I wanted that same flavour in ice cream form, and made something from a spice that is common, but likely not found in ice cream. It’s actually quite wonderful to see someone taste something that I’ve created from my memories, and them having their own associations or reference points when they taste it.”
Desserts have always been something that Pooja Bhavishi has loved. She made the connection early on in life that desserts make people happy and was constantly trying out new recipes and dreamed of starting her own dessert based business. When inspiration initially struck Bhavishi about the blank palate of an ice cream base, she discovered the same spices her parents used in Indian cooking such as ginger, rose petals, saffron and cardamom which she realised could be used to robustly flavour ice cream in a whole new way. Her friends who tried her experiments were blown away and she decided it was finally time to try and realise her long held dream.
The name of ‘Malai’ was the first thing that Bhavishi came up with after the concept and she went on to say, “I knew that I wanted the flavours and the brand to have a South Asian representation, but that felt more high-end. I thought that there was actually nothing better than the name Malai which is the best part of the cream – it’s quite literally the cream of the crop!”
Bhavishi whose love for desserts go back to watching cooking shows and recreating the recipes in her childhood, started off by selling her first scoop at a street fair in 2015, while still being a business student at NYU. When asked about her goals for the brand she said, “We have come a long way in a few years! We went from pop-ups and markets, to having our own brick and mortar store, shipping ice cream nationwide, and being available in grocery stores. Our long-term goal is to become a globally recognized brand, and make Malai more readily available and accessible to more audiences and have them get to know our brand and flavours. Malai offers a unique experience, so I want people to know, worldwide, that when they have a special event, they know to get Malai.”
While Bhavishi’s favorite flavour is the refreshing and citrus Orange Fennel, their most popular flavour is Rose with Cinnamon Roasted Almonds, which she did not almost release wondering if it would be too inaccessible. Ginger Root, Star Anise, Golden Turmeric, Jaggery with Tamarind Caramel, Lemon Cardamom and Carrot Halwa are few of the other intriguing flavours they current have in their repertoire. The brand is also looking to turn more Indian desserts into ice cream flavours and have also debuted ice cream pies and cakes. They even had their own spin of Falooda Sundae for National Ice Cream Day.
While the flavours are Indian, the brand has received support from South Asians and non- South Asians alike. Since the business was started in New York, a market that is always open to new things, Malai has great customers who are excited about different cultures and are giving constructive feedback that keeps Bhavishi on her path of constantly bettering herself.
So if you are ever in New York and want to try something that uses Indian flavours in an innovative way, you should visit Malai in Cobble hill. You can stay tuned to their updates on upcoming flavours and specials on Instagram.
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