Gola khaoge?

Mumbai may have many popular golawalas, but my best memories remain in the little lane leading to Elizabeth Hospital in Walkeshwar. From noon to night, all year round, our tall, dark, ever-smiling golawala would stand right outside the maidan closeby, manning his cart on wheels lined with orange, kachi kairi, kala khatta, rose and pineapple sherbets in smart square Johnny Walker bottles. Fascinated we’d watch him scrape the slab of ice side to side on his basic wooden ice shaver, collect the shards and mould them with his hands around a wooden stick, bent at the end. My order was, and always is, the mixed gola with all flavours, except pineapple. Ew! Many react, even golawalas, but my taste buds love it. With the same practised hands, he would pour them on the gola, one by one, creating rainbow bands until kala khatta masked them all with black. And then, he’d squeeze lemon and sprinkle masala from a plastic talcum powder bottle. After some noisy slurping, my cousins and I would giggle looking at each others newly coloured lips and tongues, and in true Indian style get the most bang for our buck—‘‘uncle thoda aur sherbet, thoda aur masala”.

Fewer golawalas, more flavours
Cut to the present, and a lot has changed. The golawala from my childhood is no more to be seen and even his basic ice shaver is to be found only in few areas—Shivaji Park, Juhu beach, the odd lane and slums. Most street vendors now use green paint-coated metallic ones with a side wheel that’s spun to crush ice, and plastic glasses have taken over glass ones. Snazzier machines catering to housewives and restaurateurs are available too.

Many say that the number of golawalas has dwindled, but neither the BMC nor the city’s hawker unions have records to confirm or contradict this observation. Though what we do know is that while you still have a few ice factories in town, near Minerva and Mazgaon, most have moved to Vashi. And what about reports that golawalas buy ice from morgues? Though the fear caught on in cities too, the reports had come from villages. ”Today, ice isn’t even used in morgues thanks to modern refrigeration facilities,” says Bahman Hamdari, partner at Davar and Co., known for its syrups and squashes. But as per MCGM’s health officer, Dr. Keskar, ”Our tests show that contamination is found largely in the ice, and it is due to hygiene levels of its source as well as transport facilities that get infested with rats. We advice against eating off the street.” Ice comes in two varieties: regular water for ₹2 – 3 per kg and filter-water ice that costs ₹8 – 10 per kg.

While as kids we would merrily bargain with the golawala to save pocket money even though it was merely sold at ₹5, today a handful decent places sell it at even ₹15. Most price it anywhere between ₹30 and ₹200. This also includes the branded segment pioneered by Gogola in 2008; its seven outlets are spread across the state, including Carter Road. About 10 – 12 years ago, the once uncommon malai golas, which previously largely comprised Gujarat-style dish ones with dry fruits, caught on like wild fire. Milkmaid (Amul’s has gained loyalty over Nestle’s) as substitute kick-started the trend of stick malai golas such as choco chip (with Hershey’s drizzle and chocolate chips), strawberry, blueberry and others with Manama crushes. Few vendors use Mapro. More recently, fruity flavours have picked up even for regular golas, so at most popular stalls (branded or otherwise) you’ll find watermelon, litchi, guava, kiwi, ripe mango, raspberry and sometimes candy-inspired pan masala and cool mint too.

Blue butterscotch and other trade secrets
The most curious of all changes though, is how golawalas have made butterscotch blue! How is it possible when the ice cream is yellow? Hasnain Mamuwala of the 90-year-old wholesale flavour store in Crawford Market, T. Ali Mahomed & Co. (TAMCO), the go-to place for most golawalas, explains, “They mix the butterscotch flavour (it’s colourless like essence) and blue colour.” No one knows how it started, but vendors recall that the blue twist first caught on in Juhu and travelled to town.

Giving insight on the general modus operandi, he adds, ‘‘Golawalas in the ₹15 category would use emulsion (flavour + colour) to make sherbets and those selling at ₹30 may use additional colour for a more attractive look. Those priced upwards still, would use both as well as flavour extracts so their orange or other sherbets stand out from others”.

Colours can be pure or blended (salt + dyes), but Hasnain says, “Though purity ensures little usage for great results, and hence better consumer health, not even high-end eateries use pure colours; they are very expensive. But nature identical ones (30-50% natural ingredients) are picking up.”

TAMCO is a one stop for all of this, and more, with domestic and international emulsion and colour brands from SS Kelkar and Bush to Kerry and Givaudan costing ₹150 – ₹400/litre depending on the quality. One bottle of emulsion makes 3 litres of syrup. Golawalas also save cost on sugar—many use saccharine and sucralose (eg. Equal tablets), the sweetest of all. TAMCO’s own emulsions, blended in Chennai and Bangalore, are available in regular flavours as well as new ones of cola khatta and lemon. Interestingly, these ingredients used for gola syrups are also used to make cold drinks. Hasnain sells ice shavers too (Rajkot manufactures 80% of Indian ones), but golawalas only account for 5 – 10% of his business, like that of other flavour stockists in Princess Street. They all keep essences for bakeries, oils and syrups for the hospitality industry and powdered colours for pharma companies.

Ice pop rocks and chuski margarita
When the humble vada pav and bheja tawa fry can find their way to fine dine tables, it’s no surprise that golas too have caught the fancy of hip cafes and pubs. The White Owl has beer popsicles in apple cider flavour and Woodside Inn offers rum-based, coffee and cosmopolitan flavoured golas on ice cream sticks. New entrant to the trend, Mamagoto has introduced blueberry and litchi pop rocks, served with vodka. Though the pop rocks look like solid spheres of ice immersed into a glass of slush, the preparation method—mixing the water, vodka and fruit pulp and freezing it in a rubber mould with a plastic stick—ensures that the pop rocks have the same crushed-ice feel of regular golas. Farzi Cafe’s Chuski Margarita with raw mango and lime juice takes the conical chai-glass shape and is stylishly dipped in more of the cocktail that fills the salt-rimmed margarita glass. It’s quite strong. Slurp and cheers!

Cool picks
1) Exotic and Sugar Free
In town, for the newest flavours from kiwi and watermelon to blue curacao and pan masala go to: Chowpatty beach, Gola Mount (next to the famous Bachelorr’s) that also offers them sugar free, Shivaji Park’s celeb-thronged Park Malai Gola (try their ginger-lemon one), Carter Road’s Gogola and Vile Parle’s New Pooja Malai Gola (for coconut flavour, sugar free golas and strangely named concoctions like Accident and Break Fail.

2) The Tallest Gola
Offered in the regular gola flavours the Jumbo Gola served by Jai Jawan in Girgaon Chowpatty is the height of five golas stacked vertically, one atop the other. But this is not their only fun option, they also have Ice Cream Gola and Choco Dip, which is meant to be the gola version of choco bite ice cream—gola is first dipped in milkmaid and then in a special chocolate sauce that quickly hardens into a chocolicious coating.

3) Traffic Jam and Ice Cream Golas
In Ghatkopar (E) khau gali, Pooja Malai Gola only offers dish golas with unusual names—Traffic Jam that has mawa, topped with syrup in different flavours as well as nuts and dry fruits as garnish. And the Delux Special with Ice Cream, which is a sorbet scoop (choose the flavour you like), topped with crushed ice, a mix of syrups and garnish of mawa and dry fruit.