clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An Indian Desserts Cheat Sheet

Know what they are and where to find them in D.C.

The Indian dessert kulfi

When it comes to selecting an Indian restaurant, most people choose the spot that creates the best chicken tikka masala or palak paneer. Dessert is often an afterthought and the less knowledgeable diner might just stick with the basics, from the ubiquitous Indian donut hole, known as gulab jamun, to the spongy ricotta cheese balls, rasgulla.

But diners with a sweet tooth should consider a variety of other options, including Indian ice cream kulfi, sweetened yogurt srikhand and carrot halwa. The dairy averse can opt for unique choices like Indian bread pudding at Passage to India or apricot compote offered at Masala Art.

Here’s a list of several Indian desserts and where to find them at D.C. area restaurants. Spellings for these dishes can range widely; this story uses the most common for each.

Khubani ka meetha: A traditional Hyderabad dessert offered at Passage to India, it’s made with dried apricots and sugar, and often served at weddings.

Kulfi: While it’s fairly common to see the frozen dairy dessert on the menus of Indian restaurants, the flavors vary. Rasika offers a rose-mango kulfi, as well as a pistachio version. Woodlands in Hyattsville offers a pistachio version while Tiffin in Takoma Park serves falooda malai kulfi, topped with rice noodles.

Kulfi from Rasika

Srikhand: Made with sweetened strained yogurt and topped with crushed pistachios, the dessert gets an update at Indique, which serves it in an orange peel and tops it with orange syrup. Passage to India offers a mango variety.

Indique’s version of the strained yogurt dish.
Julekha Dash/

Burfi: It might also be listed as burfee, barfi or barfee, but regardless of the spelling, diners can expect to dig into dense milk fudge, typically mixed with cashews, almond and other nuts.While it’s more commonly found in Indian grocery stores than restaurants, Masala Art at Southwest Waterfront serves a doda burfi made with wheat flour while Jaipur Royal Indian Cuisine in Fairfax serves a coconut burfi.

Carrot Halwa: A mix of milk, almonds, raisins and, of course, carrots, the dessert can be found at Bombay Club and Woodlands, which also offers a halwa made with ground almonds.

Carrot Halwa from Bombay Club

Rasmalai: Cottage cheese balls swimming in sweetened milk made an appearance on many Indian menus, including DuPont Circle’s Le Mirch, Jyoti Indian Cuisine and Taj of India in Georgetown.

Rabri: Consisting of thickened, sweetened milk that is boiled for hours, the labor- and time-intensive dessert is a rare find on an Indian dessert menu. Fans of the sweet dish can order it at Bombay Club, where it’s topped with blueberries. Diners traveling near Baltimore can also order it at Sneha Indian Cuisine in Catonsville, whose kitchen is led by Rasika and Bombay Club alums Zamin Mohammed and Pan Singh.

Rabri from Bombay Club

Kheer: Jyoti Indian Cuisine in Adams Morgan, Taj of India and Capitol Hill’s Cusbah are among the establishments that serve the cardamom-spiked rice pudding, which is usually topped with pistachios and other nuts.

Shahi Tukra: Made with pieces of fried bread, sweetened condensed milk and nuts, the dessert originates in Hyderabad in South India. Locally, find it at Passage to India.