We Need To Talk About Chennai's Eternal Romance With Ice Cream

From old-school push carts to upscale sit-down parlours, the love for ice cream continues to evolve in this southern city's heart

Published On Mar 18, 2024 | Updated On Mar 18, 2024

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It was a discussion around Chennai’s F&B scene at a jury meet for the Zee Zest Unlimit awards that got me thinking about the city’s claim for India’s ice cream capital. Almost everyone in Chennai has an ice cream story to tell. My first story goes back to school – Don Bosco Egmore, where we would make a beeline for ice creams from one of the city’s OG ice cream brands. 

Our resident ‘ice cream man’ Haneef used to wheel in enough supplies of Buhari’s ice cream for the entire school. Chennai’s ice cream scene has evolved considerably over the last few decades. There’s everything from affordable ice creams to premium gelatos in the mix. But this transformation didn’t happen overnight. 

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We all heard about Jaffar’s ice cream parlour from our parents and grandparents. According to one of the accounts, there was Barney Dorai’s soda fountain that became Jaffar’s Ice Cream Parlour by the late 1930s. It introduced Chennai to ice cream sundaes like their popular Peach Melba. Around the 1960s, Buhari’s joined Jaffar’s as one of the popular ice cream brands and also introduced their push carts that would circle around residential neighbourhoods. One of our favourites in school was the Buhari’s coffee ice cream that lived up to their brand credo of ‘satin smooth’. 

As Jaffar’s faded away, a new wave of air-conditioned ice cream parlours began to hit the scene. There was Dasaprakash, a popular hotel brand with hotels across South India that also launched one of the first ice cream parlours where you could pick your flavour from a large ice cream display that has become the norm now. While their Peach Melba was a house speciality, the parlour also served a popular Richie Rich flavour. More parlours joined this wave with their own ice creams. Chit Chat and Snofield are two such parlours that started in the 1980s and continue to compete with newer gelaterias in the 2020s. The city was also home to Joy ice creams that made its mark with its range of duets. In the 1990s, the city saw a wave of softy-based ice cream brands like Milky Way emerge. 

One of the most remarkable stories is Hatsun foods and the Arun ice cream brand. Arun translates to sun in Tamil and this sunrise business began with a small investment and three employees in 1970. It’s grown to become one of the biggest private employers in India and is all set to cross the USD 1 billion turnover mark. This dairy products company first launched the Arun ice cream brand – its cassata ice cream is a local legend and moved up a notch higher with the Ibaco brand that debuted a decade ago. Ibaco has now grown into a pan-Indian brand with its offering of ice creams crafted with premium ingredients and an affordable premium price of approximately INR 100 – INR 150 / scoop. 

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Mami's Filter Coffee Ice Cream at Amadora

Amadora Gourmet ice creams represent the next wave of Chennai’s ice cream journey. It began as a boutique ice cream brand in the city’s upscale Wallace Garden neighbourhood and has expanded its footprint to include Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The brand’s focus on high quality ingredients and an interesting array of flavours – including its legendary tribute to the city’s love for filter coffee, has seen it hit the right notes. 

It’s not just Amadora, Les Amis is another brand that has caught the fancy of the city’s ‘dessertarians’. It started as a ‘cloud’ venture during the pandemic and has now become one of the city’s most popular gelaterias with a flavour bank of over 400 gelatos. (For the uninitiated the main difference between a gelato and an ice cream is the milk: cream ratio. It is higher for a gelato; ice creams have a higher proportion of cream). 

The success of homegrown brands like Amadora and Les Amis have sparked a wave of neighbourhood gelaterias and ice cream shops. If there’s one area where Chennai’s F&B scene has come to the party, it’s the city’s ice-cream and gelato game. It’s why Chennai might have quietly become India’s ice cream capital. 

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Raspberry Sorbet at Les Amis
  • OG ice cream parlour experience: Head to Snofield (Cathedral Road) or Chit Chat (Anna Salai, Teynampet) for an ’80s throwback of uncomplicated ice cream sundaes. 
  • The neighbourhood ice cream stop: Almost every neighbourhood in Chennai is home to an Arun (try their Cassata) ice cream parlour or an Ibaco (their Jackfruit flavour and Belgian chocolate are both terrific) 
  • The neighbourhood gelateria: Afters Gelato (in Thiruvanmiyur) is a great example of a boutique, small-batch gelato destination. Try their locally inspired flavours like the rose milk gelato 
  • The gourmet stops: Les Amis (Chamiers Road) is our favourite gelato destination in Chennai. Their flavour bank keeps evolving and you’re almost always likely to find a new flavour each time you visit. Try the Mami’s filter coffee ice cream at Amadora (Wallace Garden) or their sinful Hail Mary Sundae that’s just what you need on your cheat day. 

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