Ramzan evenings on Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai are an institution. I remember going there just before the day’s fasting came to an end and running from one kebab stall to another gorging on juicy grilled meats and then ending the evening at the Suleiman Usman sweet shop.
I have to admit I saved the better part of my appetite for this final destination. Like a kid in a candy store, I never knew what to get or even start with. There were a zillion kinds of barfis, soft and fresh; two kinds of maalpuas, deep fried with perfect crispy edges and dipped in syrup; cool, refreshing Bengali mithais, and god-knows-what-else. But the star of the shop has always been the phirni—phirnis, actually. They make them in several different flavors including saffron, mango, strawberry, and fig. What makes their phirni special is the slight grainy texture. A lot of recipes use fine rice flour resulting in a smooth and creamy pudding (somewhat like a syllabub), which is what one gets at authentic North-Indian restaurants like Urban Tadka. I like that, too. But it just seems too simple to make for stiff upper lip cooks like me (well, at least when one is in the mood). I wanted to try something more challenging; so, I made the slightly more elaborate one and because I’ve stocked up on mangoes, I had to use them as well. The phirni turned out just like it should—light, creamy, and not to sweet. I was almost sure MK wouldn’t like it for the lack of sweetness, but he absolutely loved it; in fact, within minutes we forgot that he’d actually come home several hours early because there was a bomb scare in his office! (Luckily, it was only a hoax call.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the clay bowls that phirni is traditionally served in. The clay keeps the phirni cool and makes for excellent presentation as well. While I was half-heartedly settling for my regular ramekins, I remembered the Chinese tea set that Sahana had given me two years ago. It is such an adorable set that I had saved it for special occasions. (And never found an occasion special enough to use it.) The glazed clay tea cups were just perfect! I promptly did a little jig, ladled my warm mango cream into the tea cups and spent a very restless two hours waiting for the phirni to set. And when MK and I finally dug our spoons into the tea cup, I knew I had to write all about it!
- 1 liter full cream milk
- ¼ can condensed milk
- 2 tbsp. rice
- 1 tbsp. sugar (for those who like it sweet)
- 1 ripe Alphonso mango puree
- pistachios, chopped
- Wash and soak the rice for half an hour. Drain and grind in a blender until you get a semolina-like texture.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk and bring to a boil. Add the sugar (if using) and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the rice to the boiling milk and cook through. Add the condensed milk and cook until you have a thick cream in your pot.
- Add the mango puree and stir for about a minute. Pour into bowl of choice and garnish with diced mango and chopped pistachios.
- LICK the pot. You won’t regret it.