I just had my first – but certainly not my last – Thai ice cream roll at a small shop in Boston’s Chinatown called Juicy Spot Café.
Popular street foods in Southeast Asia, ice cream rolls are trending here in the U. S., probably because it’s so much fun to watch them being made. Plus, they not only taste good, but they look so pretty when they’re served.
The rolls are made from a base, which can be ice cream or yogurt, usually with something like fruit or seeds or even Nutella mixed into it, frozen, then shaped into small rolls, and topped with anything from grass jelly to chocolate chip cookies to whipped cream.
Deciding which roll to order isn’t easy. Should it be Unique Dragon, made with a dragon fruit and yogurt base, topped with more dragon fruit, strawberries, dark chocolate shavings, and chocolate drizzle? Or Chocolate Chip Espresso, made with an ice cream base with espresso, a chocolate chip cookie, ground espresso, whipped cream, and chocolate drizzle? Or maybe Watermelon Lychee, another ice cream base with lychee, watermelon, mochi, granola, and condensed milk drizzle? Or…?
I chose Black Sesame this time because it seemed exotic. The rolls were made from an ice cream base mixed with black sesame seeds, then topped with more black sesame seeds, grass jelly, mochi, and condensed milk drizzle. Black sesame seeds are said to be extremely healthful. That had nothing to do with my decision.
The ice cream base is a light, milky mixture that’s not as rich or lush as ice cream in a good shop. But the process and the toppings are so fascinating and the flavors so unusual that it’s no wonder people are lining up to try the rolls.
I’ve learned that grass jelly, aka leaf jelly, is a typical Southeast Asian treat made from the leaves and stalks of a plant called mesona chineensis. It’s sold in cans. People usually cut it into small cubes, and serve it with fruit, evaporated milk or, in my case, atop black sesame ice cream rolls.
Mochi, as you probably know, is a Japanese rice cake. The frozen version is so popular here that it has its own freezer at my local Whole Foods.
The rolls are all made on an extremely cold (-30°) flat metal plate. First, the ice cream maker pours a small amount of the ice cream or yogurt mixture onto the plate, swirls it around a bit, and adds, for example, black sesame seeds. Then using two utensils that look like good-sized putty knives, she chops it up very fast into small pieces, then spreads the mixture out until it forms a thin even coating over the plate.
Then comes the fun part. Using one of the putty knives, she carefully scrapes sections of the frozen mixture into rolls and tucks them into a cup. There are usually six in all. Next she embellishes the dish with the various toppings and serves it. And you get to taste all the different flavors.
Ice cream – no matter how many kinds I try, there’s always another out there just waiting for me. Maybe next time, it’ll be Ferre-Roll Rocher or...