Should you happen to encounter a long line outside an innocuous-looking shopfront while you’re out for a stroll of a hot afternoon, chances are high that you’ve stumbled on a Thai ice cream shop. The draw? Wafer-thin rolls of ice cream packed upright into a bowl and sprinkled with multitudinous toppings.
This mounting trend started tiptoeing into the States last year by way of Southeast Asia — not just Thailand, but also Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines, where the treat is often sold by street vendors. To make it, a still-liquid ice cream base is poured onto a tray cooled to around -23 degrees Celsius; fruit, cookies, candies are cut (loudly) in with a couple of spatulas that resemble putty knives. Then the whole thing is smoothed into a wafer-y sheet to freeze up quick, and scraped into tubes.
Is it worth the hefty price tag ($6.00 and up)? Rachel Fu, co-owner of Blossom in Brooklyn, points out that unlike store-bought ice cream — which is low in fat and pumped up with air, emulsifiers, and stabilizers — Thai rolled ice cream is a cream-laden, additive-free, house-made product. Madhuri Kumar of Montreal’s first Thai ice cream stand, Pandan Creamery, thinks experiments with unique flavors — plus, in some cases, locally-sourced dairy — are differences worth shelling out for. Will you agree? Try one of the seven North American spots listed below to find out.
1. 10Below – New York, New York
The first Thai ice cream outpost in Manhattan (they’ve now got one in Flushing, Queens, too), 10Below (10 Mott St) focuses on classic American flavors like Key Lime Pie and S’mores Galore (the latter topped with a perfectly toasted marshmallow). New flavors Bend and Gingersnap sell out fast.
2. Blossom Ice Cream – Brooklyn, New York
Come in to Blossom (196 Court St) in Brooklyn for the Wild Berry Lavender and Sesame ice creams, stay for the unlimited toppings—Teddy Grahams, sliced strawberries, and mochi among them. There’s also a vegan coconut option that’s getting a lot of play and coming soon: Lychee.
3. Chelo Creamery – Los Angeles, California
Dishing up the biggest, brightest ice cream rolls in the bunch, L.A.’s Chelo Creamery (18558 Gale Ave. #158) scores with vivid magenta Cactus Bloom—dragon fruit ice cream with a jackfruit kicker — offered alongside chocolatey fare, as well as more traditional, scooped, selections.
4. Sweet Charlie’s – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philly’s been in the rolled ice cream game since March, when Sweet Charlie’s (711 Walnut Street) opened its doors to local mania. Peppermint Patty, Nutella, and red wine-spiked flavors are the norm here, and at two new outposts slated to kick off the chaos in New Jersey.
5. Holla Mode – Austin, Texas
Thai Coffee, Sticky Mango and banana/coconut Bhumi Bowl are the Thai-inspired backbone of Holla Mode’s (1800 Barton Springs Road) food truck menu in Austin—supplemented with specials that have throwback pop-culture names like Choc-Work Orange and Oreo Speedwagon.
6. 8 Fahrenheit Ice Cream – Atlanta, Georgia
In Atlanta, 8 Fahrenheit’s (5090 Buford Hwy #101, 678-585- 3818) got a slew of fruity flavors on offer: mango and peach Minions, blueberry/blackberry/raspberry Evil Berries and Sexy Georgia, which infuses fresh local peaches into Thai ice tea. Toppings run the gamut, from jelly to Pocky and sliced kiwi.
7. Pandan Creamery – Montréal, Quebec
The Montreal pop-up/soon- to-be storefront Pandan Creamery (3833 Rue Saint-Jacques) features five flavors at a time, in a continually renewing cycle. Signature Pandan Sundae (always on offer), spiked with aromatic pandan leaf, is the house best-seller. But Calamansi with Mango Coulis and Lemon Curd with Lime Leaf and Lemon Shortbread are also big winners.
Lela Nargi is a cookbook author and freelance journalist who lives in Brooklyn, NY. Find her at lelanargi.com