South Asian–Inspired Ice Cream Shop Malai Is Opening Off 14th Street

The New York–based creamery serves scoops of masala chai and red chili chocolate.

Malai features ice cream, popsicles, and more, all inspired by South-Asian flavors. Photograph by Morgan Ione Photography.

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Malai. 1407 T St., NW.

Open from noon to 10 PM Sunday through Thursday; noon to 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Malai has been serving aromatic, South Asian–inspired ice cream flavors like ginger root and masala chai in New York City for almost a decade. This Saturday, May 18, the first DC store will open, just in time for summer.

Founder Pooja Bavishi started selling scoops inspired by her experience as a first-generation Indian-American in 2015 at fairs and markets. She opened her flagship store in Brooklyn in 2019 and now ships pints to cities nationwide, including DC. “Making ice cream is a way for me to celebrate my hybrid lifestyle,” says Bavishi. “You can’t get more Americana than ice cream, and combining it with ingredients that were ubiquitous to me growing up is really special.” 

The new DC location replaces Ice Cream Jubilee just off 14th Street Corridor and is within a block radius of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. For Bavishi, the decision to open in DC was partially a personal one—she lived here for a few years after graduating college—but it also felt like a “natural next step” for the company: “The food scene here is so diverse and booming. I know that people here are going to appreciate these flavors.” 

The exterior of Malai’s new location. Photograph by Omega Ilijevich.

The DC scoop shop offers indoor and outdoor seating and a salmon-hued exterior. Inside, you’ll find a dozen dairy and non-dairy ice creams, from red chili chocolate to passionfruit cilantro. Most flavors are switched out on a bi-monthly basis, but one fan favorite is always available: rose with cinnamon-roasted almonds.

Malai’s signature rose with cinnamon-roasted almonds. Photograph by Morgan Ione Photography.

A single scoop is $6, or you can get a trio of flavors for $9. Add toppings like cacao-nib/cardamom shortbread pieces or crunchy peanut chikki (a traditional Indian brittle) for a dollar more. Alongside scoops, customers can grab ice cream cakes ($54), ice cream sandos ($6), creamy kulfi popsicles ($6). Malai also serves $6 cups of soft-serve (they’re currently swirling pistachio and saffron.) A wider selection of to-go pint flavors will be available both in-store and in local grocery stores in the coming weeks.

The interior of Malai’s shop, replacing Ice Cream Jubilee. Photograph by Omega Ilijevich.

To ring in the opening weekend, Malai is also debuting the DC-exclusive cherry/black-cardamom flavor. Bavishi says the smokiness of the black cardamom brings out the sweetness of DC’s official fruit.

That’s not the only DC-adjacent pint in Malai’s lineup: on Inauguration Day in 2021, the shop paid homage to Vice President Kamala Harris by adding the “Madam Vice President” flavor to its menu. Its fusion of mango and coconut flavors nod to Harris’s East and West Indian roots, and the candied-lotus seed mix-ins are a play on her name (“Kamala” translates to lotus in Sanskrit). “To see a woman in power who grew up with an Indian mother and celebrates the same holidays as I do was just very inspiring to me”, says Bavishi. The Veep-inspired treat isn’t available for scooping right now, but you can pick up a to-go pint in the store’s freezers. 

The in-store freezers feature an additional selection of flavors. Photograph by Omega Ilijevich.

“I’ve always strived to change the way ice cream is perceived in this country. It shouldn’t feel abnormal to walk into an ice cream shop and not see a chocolate or a cookies-and-cream,” she says. “Here, we’re not just taking flavors from India and copying them, but actually creating brand new flavors that highlight those South Asian ingredients,”

To celebrate Malai’s opening at noon on May 18, they’ll be serving $3 single-scoops all day, and the first 50 customers to visit will receive a complimentary Malai tote bag. 

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow