Turkey’s dondurma is an ice cream so dense that it’s often eaten with a fork and knife. // © 2014 Creative Commons user tuhfe001
Feature image (above): A variation on the Italian semifreddo, this concoction is flavored with coconut and lime. // © 2014 Creative Commons user shutterbean
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But if you’re searching for a more interesting way to cool down your palette, a sweeping world of cold dessert awaits — churned, poured and whipped up to keep away the heat.
Travel to Taiwan, Malaysia, China or Vietnam, and you’ll likely come across this dish — a mountain of shaved ice, topped with condensed milk, jellies and fruit. It was eaten in China back in the seventh century and even served to the late President Richard Nixon during his dinner with Mao Zedong. But you don’t have to have a time machine or be president of the United States to get a taste. Choose among a plethora of toppings, including grass jelly, azuki beans and mung beans.
Made thick with an orchid flour called salep and resin from a mastic tree, this taffy-like dessert melts slowly, making it perfect for Turkey’s heat. Long wooden paddles are used to churn the confection, which is sold at store fronts or on street carts. Vendors are often playful illusionists, taking advantage of the ice cream’s sticky consistency to give and take away scoops using their paddles, leaving the confused buyer with an empty cone — “now you have it, now you don’t” — before finally granting their patient customers the treat.
Dondurma’s wild popularity put the salep-producing orchids on the edge of becoming extinct. The government has since put a ban on export of these endangered orchids, so it’s tough to find authentic dondurma outside of Turkey.
Your parent has probably told you not to eat dessert before spaghetti, but what about spaghetti for dessert? Well, it’s not quite dinner, but this Iranian cold concoction mixes corn starch vermicelli with a cold syrup made from rose water and sugar.
Take faloodeh as a topping on ice cream, or eat it as your main dessert topped with pistachios and a lime wedge. If you want to try the cream of this cold crop, go to faloodeh’s birth place, Shiraz, Iran.
In Tagalog, halo halo means “mix-mix” and that’s no surprise because the treat stirs in every flavor and texture you never knew you wanted. For the bottom of the dessert, opt for fruits (e.g., coconut, jackfruit, purple yam or sweetened plantain) and beans (e.g., red beans or chickpeas). Then, cover that foundation with shaved ice; top it further with jellies, cream caramel flan, purple yam ice cream; and finally, drown it in milk — and that’s just the simple version.
Keshta or Kashta
You say keshta, I say kashta. This frozen cream seems to be referred to by both names. Popular in Egypt and Arabian countries that share their border with the Mediterranean Sea, the dessert is extremely thick (courtesy of clotted cream) and slightly chewy. Nuts and floral flavors are popular variations of this dessert.
Creamy and a bit chewy, kulfi is a frozen dairy dessert popular throughout Pakistan, India and the Middle East (as well as in Indian restaurants in other countries). Unlike whipped ice cream in the West, kulfi is cooked slowly, so it’s dense and takes longer to melt — a definite bonus if you’re walking out in the scorching heat.
Although it’s now available in more Westernized flavors such as strawberry, kulfi traditionally comes in rose, saffron, mango and pistachio. In India, the treat is sold by kulfiwalas (i.e., street vendors in India) who store it inside a giant pot kept cold by ice and salt. It is typically served on a stick or leaf, and finished off with cardamom or pistachios.
These Japanese mocha cakes are made from kuzuko, a starch powder from the root of a kudzu plant.
Vegan and gluten free, kuzumochi is the in-between to reach for if you can’t decide between ice cream or something more solid. These gelatinous confections are eaten cold, regularly topped with roasted yellow soybean flour called kinako or a black sugar syrup called kuromitsu.
In most Spanish speaking countries, piragua refers to a flat bottomed boat — so don’t think too hard about how that definition connects to the Puerto Rican shaved snow cone. This dessert gets its name from the words “piramide” and “agua.”
These pointy and syrupy water pyramids are sold by vendors called piragueros who carry ice blocks inside their cart (the ice is shaved fresh for each order). Don’t expect a spoon. Though you might swipe a straw, it’s more common to lick this snow straight from the cup.
Less of an ice cream and more of a cold mousse, this Italian subgroup of semi-frozen desserts — the Italian word semifreddo has the literal English translation of “half-cold” — is often made with ice cream cake or custard. Exact recipes vary, but semifreddo desserts are usually a mix of whipping cream and various flavoring components. They are already quite soft, so attempting to eat a semifreddo treat while on the go would be ill-advised.
Visit the Philippines, and you’ll likely walk by peddlers selling this coconut milk-based ice cream (not to be confused with sorbet) out of their bright wooden carts. Eat sorbetes in a cone, a cup or even a bread bun for a very literal ice cream sandwich. If you want to branch out, try flavors such as ube (i.e., purple yam), avocado or jackfruit.