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Ice Gola (Shaved Ice): An Indian Summer Cooler

Rajan loves cooking dishes from his native Indian cuisine. He enjoys sharing his favourite recipes with his online readers.

Ice gola is a favourite Indian treat in the summertime

Ice gola is a favourite Indian treat in the summertime

What Is Ice Gola?

Ice gola is a traditional Indian shaved ice dessert from Mumbai. Also known as an ice lolly, snow cone or Mumbai's Slurpee, to Mumbaikars (those native to Mumbai) it is simply called gola.

Decades ago, as a child, I along with my friends would make a beeline to the golawala's (the person who sells golas) cart, as soon as it was evening, to taste this sweet delight. This was a daily indulgence for our friends, irrespective of the day, and we eagerly awaited the arrival of this vendor.

About the Golawala

The golawala (gola vendor) ran his business from a wooden mobile cart that stood on four cycle tires that worked as its wheels. The golawala pushed the cart manually and pulled a string to ring a bell when he reached his usual spot. He would even ring the bell while pushing the cart to let people know he was passing by.

The cart was lined with a row of glass bottles filled with syrups of various colours and flavours like orange, lemon, khus, etc. A simple raised wooden contraption to which a sharp blade was fixed stood on wooden supports on either side, firmly fixed to the wooden base of the cart. This served as a simple ice shaver.

Other than a dozen or so glasses, a few utensils, etc, and a big block of ice that was stored under the cart in a makeshift compartment covered with a heap of sawdust to prevent the ice from melting too quickly, there was not much else needed to start this small business.

How Ice Gola Is Made

How the Golawala Made Ice Gola

To make the ice gola, the golawala chipped off a small block of ice from the ice slab. He then proceeded to work this against the blade forwards and backwards with one hand while the other hand simultaneously was placed below the ice shaver to collect the shaved ice in his palm.

When he had shaved enough ice to make one gola, he would cup both his hands together, punch a split bamboo stick in the centre of this ice and then cup his palms and fingers together all the while rotating the ice and compressing it so as to give the gola a roundish shape.

Next, he would squeeze some lime juice on this then dip this ice gola in syrup to coat the entire ice gola in one or more flavours (as shown in the video) or place the ice gola in a glass. Depending on the customer's choice, he would start pouring various combinations of syrups on the ice gola while holding the gola by the stick just above the glass. The extra syrup would roll away into the glass. To the glass were also added black salt and lemon juice.

How We Ate Ice Gola

We consumed the ice gola by sucking the syrupy contents off the top. It also had to be sucked from all sides in order to prevent melting and dripping. When the syrup was gone, we would dip the gola into the bottom of the glass where the extra syrup had pooled—and the process carried on.

This was fun, real fun, and being offered a gola was like being given a treat.

Ice Gola Today

Today both the ice gola and this business have attained elite status. There have been some marginal improvements in that the mobile golawalas now use a hand-cranked ice shaving machine to make the job easier, and they have a wider array of coloured and flavoured syrups.

On the other hand, the huge potential in this business has attracted in educated people who treat this as a proper business and work to provide better quality and variety. With the sprouting of many kiosks serving ice gola as well as bigger outlets also coming in, there has been a sea change for the better in hygiene, quality and service. In some places, bottled mineral water is now used to make the ice, and real fruit syrups have replaced the flavoured ones.

The ice shaving machine is electric powered and new exotic flavours have also been introduced.

The ice gola that used to cost 10 paise (about 2¢) about 40 to 45 years back now costs about 15-20 rupees (30-40¢) at the mobile vendor and about 30 rupees (about 70¢) at the minimum, at these kiosks and outlets.

Writing about this topic was a trip down memory lane for me and I hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as I enjoyed writing about it. Thanks for reading.

Ice Gola at Juhu Beach, Mumbai

© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly