Dessert First

The High-Flying Indian Ice Creams of South Tempe

Carrot halwa, gulkand (rose petal jam), and tutti frutti ice cream flavors from Curry & Scoop.
Carrot halwa, gulkand (rose petal jam), and tutti frutti ice cream flavors from Curry & Scoop. Chris Malloy
One of the most popular ice cream flavors at Curry & Scoop is gulkand: rose petal jam. This ice cream is a pale, chalky pink, like strawberry ice cream. A cold taste, though, veers into a pleasant zone of florals melded into a core of dairy richness, all milk and heavy cream. As these flavors unspool, basic go-tos like fudge brownie ice cream feels blunt and alien. Rocky road feels miles away.

Despite its novelty and elegance, gulkand, really, is just a gateway into Curry & Scoop’s ice creams. Gulkand and mango are the two bedrock flavors that don’t change. The rest rapidly rotate.

“We change our flavors almost every other week,” Jai Amba says. “We don’t want to be the ice cream shop that only sells 10 sets of ice cream, that’s it. We want to be innovating.”

For the gulkand flavor, Amba, Srini Subramanian, and Venu Subramanian, the shop’s partners, import from jam makers in India. “What they do is take a particular set of red rose," Amba says. "They sun-dry the petals, soak it in sugar, and sun-dry it again, then make a jam out of it."

Curry & Scoop does more than source overseas ingredients for churning novel scoops, as its name hints. This small, south Tempe storefront is a casual eatery that plates regional Indian food cycling with the seasons. It’s a solid spot for a quick dosa or chaat, sure. But Curry & Scoop stands out most starkly from the rest of the Valley scene when you look below freezing.

click to enlarge Srinivasan Subramanian (left) and Jai Amba of Curry & Scoop. - CHRIS MALLOY
Srinivasan Subramanian (left) and Jai Amba of Curry & Scoop.
Chris Malloy
No matter the season, Amba and Subramanian are slinging some of the wildest ice creams in town.

How creative do they get?

Curry & Scoop, opened in 2017, takes such a free approach that it often runs with customer requests. One wanted to taste curry ice cream. So it made one. Pining for flavors of the Philippines, another regular customer requested a soursop flavor. So the partners learned how to source the fruit and churned a fresh batch.

How creative does it get?

Curry & Scoop converts Indian desserts into ice cream. It has turned kheer (rice pudding), gulab jamun (syrup-soaked fried dough orbs), and halwa into ice cream. The halwa in particular is richly buttery and pulls earthy, hardy sweetness from cooked carrots. Like the gulkand, it might alter the way you see ice cream, and will make you smile.

Many of Curry & Scoop’s flavors spotlight a single ingredient. Jackfruit. Custard apple. Pumpkin. Kesar mango. The way it makes the mango changes over time. In mango season, it blends crushed fresh mango with canned mango pulp, giving it its target flavor and texture.

click to enlarge Jackfruit and green tea are two of the many rotating flavors. - CHRIS MALLOY
Jackfruit and green tea are two of the many rotating flavors.
Chris Malloy
Though these flavors are gravy, Amba emphasizes that Curry & Scoop goes beyond the one-flavor ice creams he sees in India.

“They have straightforward flavors,” he says. “If they have mango, it’s just mango. They don’t mix and infuse flavors like we do.”

At Curry & Scoop, the ice cream-makers forge complex flavor unions. Coconut and turmeric. Cinnamon and lychee, a winter flavor. Candied papaya. They craft ice cream meant to channel thandai, a spiced summer drink believed to cool the body in hot weather.

Curry & Scoop’s multi-flavor ice creams tunnel into Ayurveda, an Indian medical tradition with ancient roots. “The basic principles of us making ice cream is appearance, taste, and the nutritional value,” Amba says. “In India, we have something called Ayurveda. It’s like Indian home science ... I research what benefits [an ice cream] gives a person other than being tasty and looking good.”

click to enlarge The south Tempe storefront. - CHRIS MALLOY
The south Tempe storefront.
Chris Malloy
Keying into Ayurveda, Amba says, they use saffron because saffron milk is a curative.

And cardamom brings a cool dusk to ice cream, but also, Amba notes, benefits to the heart.

Similarly, meetha paan, a complex ice cream, mimics a post-meal tradition that some Indians enjoy. “They take a betel leaf, and, to the betel leaf, they actually add some rose jam, some saffron, some coconut, and some fennel,” says Amba. “They wrap it up and they chew it. When they chew, the juices that come out of the leaves actually helps digest food, and the leaf itself acts as a mouth freshener as well.”

The frozen analog scooped in south Tempe targets the same effects. “We take the exact ingredients, blend it,” Amba says.

He pauses for a beat, reflects, and smiles a little. “We make a very nontraditional ice cream.”

Curry & Scoop.
1805 East Elliot Road, #106, Tempe; 480-838-0200.
Hours: Monday 5 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Note: A second restaurant from this team, Tikka Bistro, is slated to open in two to three weeks at Apache Boulevard and Dorsey Lane.
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy