‘Tis the season when we all scream for ice cream, and since gelato’s world domination, our hunger for more select flavours, textures and varieties knows no bounds. While Brits have come to love the subtle softness of Italy’s flavour-packed ice cream as much as a milk mivvi, van-vended soft serve or Cornish clotted ice-cream cone, our tastes are expanding to embrace a variety of international icy treats. We round up the best global offerings to inspire your next ice-cream obsession.
Found at the rarely regarded end of Indian restaurant menus in the UK, kulfi doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. This Mughal-era dessert of slowly simmered, frozen sweetened milk (whole not condensed, say purists) is traditionally studded with pistachio, heady with vanilla, mango, rose, cardamom and saffron. Often sold on a stick, this dense, creamy lighthouse-shaped confection is a reviving snack enjoyed on the hoof in the hot climes of India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in the Middle East, rich with rosewater.
Where to start: At the kulfiwalas (street vendors) in South Asian cities such as Delhi and Mumbai or in Dubai’s expanding retinue of hipster kulfi parlours.
Variously called dondurma, bastani or booza in destinations across the Middle East, the mesmerising stretchiness of this emulsified milk confection has made it a social media favourite. Traditionally thickened with sahlab (starchy flour made from orchid tubers) and mastic (tree resin), this dense, intensely flavoured ice cream has the irresistible elasticity of just-melted mozzarella and holds its icy state longer than regular varieties, making it a favourite of sweltering summers in Turkey, Iran and, lately, the USA, where it comes in a rainbow of contemporary flavours.
Where to start: Try qashta (also known as kashta and ashta), a traditional rose water and orange blossom booza, in Lebanon where it’s a post-fasting Ramadan favourite [ED: I can’t find evidence online that it’s a post-fast Ramadan favourite].
3. Nieves & Paletas
Latin America’s coastal regions ring with the cry of ‘Nieeeeeeeves’ from vendors selling this typically water-based sorbet. It runs the gamut of tropical flavours including cherimoya (custard apple), guanabana (soursop) and sapote/zapote (chocolate pudding fruit), while paletas, a popsicle packed with fresh fruit frozen into milk, yoghurt or water, is the more portable alternative. Nieves also bears similarities to Ecuador’s Helado de paila — the revered original variety of which is still sometimes made with ice from Imbabura volcano in the town of Ibarra.
Where to start: Oaxaca is Mexico’s nieves capital, while the Michoacán town of Tocumbo spawned the La Michoacana chain of ice-cream parlours, which sell palatas in every flavour from avocado to chongos zamoranos (a flavour based on a curdled milk dessert).
A ball of ice cream wrapped in a chewy, glutinous rice casing, mochi is frozen dessert as an art form. It comes in many other forms too, with fillings and flavours ranging from red bean paste to matcha. But while these more traditional incarnations were mastered in Japan and Korea, ice-cream mochi was perfected in the USA by Mikawaya, the brand largely credited with creating an ice cream that doesn’t turn to a sodden mess when coated in sticky rice.
Where to start: Any frozen food isle in the USA where My/Mochi (Mikawaya’s contemporary spin-off) is an ice-cream cabinet ubiquity. Or in the UK, where various brands have started appearing in shops, including the meteorically successful Little Moons.
A made-to-order Thai sweet treat, i-tim-pad is an ice-cream mixture that’s been poured onto a sub-zero metal sheet and flash frozen. What’s more, it’s another viral video favourite, thanks to the truly mesmerising lightning reflexes of its chefs, who chop and mix toppings at warp speed before scraping the ice cream into delicate rolls. Arranged in a cup, i-tim-pad resembles (sort of) a bowl of noodles, giving the dessert its social media moniker, ‘stir-fried ice cream’. Don’t be put off by the hype: it’s as delicious to eat as it is seductive to see made.
Where to start: London and Manchester recently welcomed Pan-n-ice, a parlour selling a smorgasbord of rolled ice creams.
6. Ais Kacang
Translated as ‘ice beans’, this Malaysian dessert is a bewitching combination of shaved ice with sweetened red beans and sweetcorn, topped with evaporated milk and a boggling variety of fruity, nutty, jelly and syrupy toppings. It’s also known across the Malay region as ‘ABC’ for air batu (ice) campur (mixed). Another variation is es campur in Indonesia, where it’s served almost as a chilled soup swimming with technicolour tapioca pearls, fresh fruit and grass jellies. It’s a taste, when acquired, that travellers are motivated to make a pilgrimage for.
Where to start: Kuala Lumpur’s night markets are jewelled with these sparkling icy treats.
Hailing from Alaska, a place known for frozen landscapes more than desserts, akutaq (pronounced a-goo-duk) comes with traditionally foraged summer berries, such as salmonberries and blueberries, which top or are added to an ice cream made from tallow, rendered animal fat usually taken from moose and caribou or dried fish. Traditionally a way to preserve and transport nutritious food, modern versions have adapted to more sweet-tooth tastes.
Where to start: Not an Alaskan restaurant menu regular, you will find this Inuit ice cream served at potlatch gift-giving feasts, which are often public events.
An optical illusion that almost falls foul of its convincing cleverness, this German ‘spaghetti’ dish is actually vanilla ice cream that’s been forced through a special spaetzle potato ricer to resemble Italian noodles. While your palate prepares for something deeply savoury it instead meets ‘tomato sauce’ (strawberries and cream) with grated nuts as ‘parmesan cheese’. Other varieties are topped with cream and chocolate chunks to mimic spaghetti carbonara.
Where to start: Still predominantly found in Germany, the doppelganger pasta dish is starting to appear in a few pioneering ice-cream parlours worldwide, but Eiscafé Fontanella in Mannheim is the reputed origin of spaghettieis (spaghetti ice).
Follow us on social media