Monday, 14 September 2015

In search of the perfect ice cream

Proust had his madeleine. I had a wonderful amarena gelato.

It sat in its dish with four dark, evil cherries in their liqueur. White ice cream rippled with the nearly black cherry syrup.

In the mouth, the cream was cut with alcoholic sharpness, the sweetness of syrup countered by the sourness of the cherries. It was a delight.

I started remembering all the great ice creams I've had on my travels.

The Turks make great ice cream. There was a salon near the pier on Buyuk Ada, one of the Princes' Islands, which served up visne (sour cherry) and chestnut ice creams; wonderful on one of those hot and golden summer afternoons.

Is it something to do with islands? There were great ice creams on Paros, too - and I remember a lovely gelateria on the Isola Tiberina, the little island in the middle of Rome.

Sometimes, in my memories, the ice cream glows in brighter colours than the rest of the memory. Of one stay in Siena, I remember the chants of the Palio winners - I'd arrived too late to catch the race - and the landlady's collection of owls, and a wonderful gelateria close to the main piazza, where I ate gelato stuffed with candied fruit that seemed almost an ice cream version of the famous panforte.

In a little town in Brittany I found a boulangerie which served up home made ice creams, including one with caramel salted with the local sel de Guerande I'd seen being raked from the salt pans earlier that day. Salt and caramel is a typical French flavour - the salt doesn't contradict but rather seems to sharpen and intensify the sweetness, and there's always a slightly buttery taste and feel to the concoction.

Then there are ice cream concoctions. I have no idea how Hello To The Queen got its memorable and rather odd name, but the mixture of bananas, chocolate and cream together with crumbled biscuits is always munchworthy and seems typical of backpacker India; I've never found it elsewhere. No one's even sure where it came from: a lot of people tell you it's Israeli, but Israelis say not, and it's not English, either.

Iceland has ice cream - which it should, given its name (and the ready availability of ice), though on a typical day as the rain lashes the grey Reyjavik streets you're not expecting a queue at the Valdis ice cream parlour. But a queue is what you'll find, none the less. And some weird ice creams: "Turkish pepper" is a favourite - licorice flavoured with pepper, threateningly off-black in colour, reminding me of some of the less inviting geological features I'd seen on my hikes around Iceland. Berries are at a premium, too - blueberries, crowberries, bilberries, are all popular.

Strange, though: almost everywhere else in the world I've had wonderful ice creams. But South-East Asia seems rather deprived. There's the occasional rather nice coconut ice cream, but for the most part, it's cakes that get the Thais, Laos, and Burmese going. I wonder why?

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