I might be considered obsessive when it comes to eating ice cream. As if there were such a thing. I’ve averaged eating ice cream at least once a day this year, and I was eating three gelatos a day in Italy.
In my travels, I’ve learned that ice cream is not always ice cream. Certainly don’t confuse Italian gelato with it. Turkey might call their taffy-like substance ice cream, but that’s a stretch. Through most of Europe, fast food stores have a separate window just for selling ice cream, and you can find every walk of life in an ice cream parlor.
There might be some debate on whether eating ice cream is healthy or not. In my opinion, store bought ice cream can be pretty bad, even though I have my favorites (Ben & Jerry’s). Some major companies hardly even use cream in their products, but rather substitute artificial flavors and vegetable oils. That’s why I prefer to seek out the top ice cream parlors in town, using their own products and not store-purchased tubs.
Most cities in the world offer a variety of healthy and homemade options. True gelato in Italy really isn’t the same thing as ice cream. Proper gelato is made with milk rather than cream, and ice and a natural flavor are usually the only other ingredients. Egg yokes, artificial flavors and everything else that goes into traditional ice cream is lacking, and thus gelato is considerably “low-fat.” Factually, I lost 5 kilos in my 5 weeks in Italy. The food there is healthy too, but that’s another post.
Turkish ice cream is called dondurma. It includes salep (a flour) and mastic (a resin) to make it resistant to melting. It’s stretchy and chewy and though it might be good in the heat, you’ll have to decide if it’s something you like yourself. Personally it was like nothing I had ever tried. While I didn’t mind it, it didn’t qualify as ice cream for me. The best part of dondurma is the presentation. The ice cream vendor is a showman of the first degree. It might take you several minutes before you succeed in getting your cone, with the ice cream inside, in your hand and not on your nose.
Throughout central Europe you can find artisan ice cream parlors, but in many places it’s soft serve. And lots of it. There’s nothing better when it’s 43° in Budapest or Prague than eating a foot-tall soft serve ice cream for €1.
Most places in Europe sell ice cream for very cheap. In Prizren, Kosovo, three large scoops of ice cream sells for less than €1. In Krakow, Poland, four scoops at my favorite ice cream parlor was just under €2. Helsinki was more, as are all the Nordic Countries, but that was one of the few places where I didn’t really need ice cream. It was cold enough outside, and I didn’t find any artisan parlors drawing me in. The crazy one was Siem Reap, Cambodia. In a grocery market there, a pint of Häagen-Dazs sold for $18.50! No wonder the store didn’t want me taking a photo of the price!
If you’re lactose intolerant, there are options for you around world. If I could make one recommendation, find the homemade ice cream parlors that use natural ingredients. A great example is the Over Langshaw Farmhouse Ice Cream stand in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, Scotland. Their ice cream is all natural with ingredients directly from their own farm. Mary’s Milk Bar down the street is just as good. Hmm, I’m really missing Edinburgh right now, but I’ll be back soon.
What’s the moral of the story? Eating ice cream! Try different flavors. My favorite was ricotta con scorza d’arancina e mandorie caramellate (in English, ricotta with orange peel and caramelized almonds) at a gelateria in Florence. Some places specialize in the unusual (lavender, rose and other flowers abound) and nothing is too wild to use (Red Bull in Prizren or marijuana! in Barcelona). After all, eating ice cream is just another reason to travel and explore the world. Get going!