Indian desserts meet gelato at this Toronto food truck
Tuesdays and Thursdays at Berczy Park, Weekends at Trinity Bellwoods
For a few years now, we've been experiencing an ice cream renaissance in the GTA. It is typical that with each summer, you'll see a new gelateria or cube-sized ice cream shop pop up in a random neighbourhood.
But, in the last two years this movement feels accelerated, and if there's one thing most of the new dessert shops have in common, it's the use of global ingredients and flavours. You'll see mentions of yuzu, ube, calamansi juice, saffron and pomegranate molasses on the menu.
In this new wave of globally themed creamy treats is Nani's Gelato. I first came across Parry Sohi's ice cream van when it was parked at David Pecaut Square during the early days of summer.
"Toronto is still not warm to the idea of food trucks. It is a daily struggle to find a place to park," Sohi explained as he reached into his gelato fridge.
A few moments later he presented a cup topped with one of his feature flavours, a creamy thick pistachio gelato infused with cardamom.
"I feel I have a unique product to offer, I'm using ingredients that are common in Indian cooking and I'm pulling from memories of Indian desserts I had growing up."
The pistachio cardamom is reminiscent of a popular Indian dessert known as kulfi, where condensed milk is boiled with dry milk powder (khoya), cardamom and pistachio to create ice cream popsicles. The next time you're in your neighbourhood Indian grocery store, look for a chest freezer, either by the checkout counter or next to the beverage fridge, it will be stacked with all kinds of imported kulfis.
Sohi's version mimics the creamy, nutty qualities of pista kulfi while amplifying the dessert's aromatics with hits of cardamom. Close your eyes and you won't be able to tell the difference, except maybe Sohi's version isn't as saccharine as the store bought stuff.
Sohi was born in Thunder Bay, Ont., to parents of Kenyan and Indian descent.
"My dad owned and operated restaurants. He also ran a very popular ice cream shop. That's probably where I get it from," he said.
After a brief career in the corporate world, Sohi decided to pursue his dreams of opening his own gelato shop.
"I wanted to see if the masses would like my concept and product, so getting a truck seemed like a good first step before opening a shop somewhere."
In an industrial strip of Mississauga, he found a corner space that he subleases from a large tile manufacturing company. In a small kitchen every morning he makes up to eight types of gelato, and the occasional sorbeto.
Sohi uses a base cream to create his seasonal and Indian-inspired cool treats.
"Many of the things I am making here is directly inspired by my mom and grandma. Memories of me eating Indian sweets and things when I was a kid."
In the span of a few months, Sohi has amassed a following for his take on mango sorbet and gelato. The sorbet is mango essence at its purest. Sohi procures summer mangos when in season to produce a gelato that is creamy and luscious.
"It should taste like the ripest mango you have ever had."
There's also a mango gelato on regular rotation where Sohi purees thick chunks of ripe mango and mixes it with his base cream and again, cardamom, to create a gelato that reminds me of a creamy version of aamras, a chilled mango dessert popular in some parts of India.
But, perhaps the best item in my opinion on his menu is Sohi's take on one of the quintessential desserts of India and Pakistan, the carrot halwa.
In its traditional form, the dessert is a pudding-like dish made from cooking grated carrot with khoya, milk, sugar, clarified butter and occasionally finished with nuts. It is thick and clumpy, bridging the sweetness from the root vegetable with the nutty qualities of ghee.
"This is a flavour that every auntie and Indian kid will recognize immediately. It takes you right back to your childhood, whether it's Toronto, Thunder Bay or somewhere in India."
By slowly cooking pureed carrots in ghee and his base ice cream, and allowing it to steep for long periods of time before churning it, Sohi has managed to capture the essence of the iconic carrot pudding in frozen form, and it is on the menu this summer.