As far as we're concerned, summer means ice cream season. But there's no reason to stay in your rocky road comfort zone. Go ahead and check out one of these unexpected flavors our contributors found on their travels—think cheddar cheese, olive oil, even frankincense.
Patbingsu is a South Korean summertime dessert made from shaved ice garnished with red bean paste, condensed milk, fresh fruit, ice cream, and cereal. Infinite variations exist. Lotteria, the top Korean fast food chain, adds pumpkin seeds, pineapple, and mini-marshmallow-sized bits of tteok (glutinous rice cake) to theirs. The Park Hyatt Seoul serves a version with dark chocolate sauce and candied orange slices. Every café has its own rendition, often made with green tea or coffee ice cream.
Each mouthful is a combination of textures—chewy, crunchy, and creamy—and as the shaved ice melts, it turns into a cold, sweet soup. In Korea, everybody from kids to grandparents eats patbingsu all summer long. It’s available—and ubiquitous—from May through September, and is a particular favorite of young couples who, with two spoons and a shared dish between them, can enjoy a sweetly romantic moment. —Nell McShane Wulfhart
2. FRANKINCENSE ICE CREAM
In a 21st–century example of East meets West, American entrepreneur Trygve Harris has become a Dhofar celebrity by inventing the world's first frankincense ice cream. Harris, 48, moved to Salalah, Dhofar's port city, five years ago to source natural aromatics for her Manhattan-based essential oils company, Enfleurage, and she became a fan of the full cream milk sold by the Dhofar dairy farm belonging to the head of state, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. As an experiment, she infused the milk with the frankincense oil she distills from the sap of trees that grow near Mugsayl Beach; these trees, she says, produce a resin with a spicy, orange note.
At the end of a hot Dhofar day I savored the ice cream. The flavor reminded me of an eastern Christmas: a refreshing mix of pine, mint, the smell of a church nave, and yes, a bit of orange. From June through September, Dhofar residents and visitors line up at Harris’s artisanal ice cream stand in Salalah's Hafah souk, the country's biggest frankincense market, across from The Arabian Frankincense Store. Throughout the year, sample it during a visit to the Enfleurage distillery, where you can also learn about the benefits of pure frankincense oil. (968-2205-2003; firstname.lastname@example.org) —Susan Hack
3. TIGER BEER ICE CREAM
At Island Creamery in Singapore, ice cream aficionados line up for locally themed flavors such as durian, Horlicks, and pineapple tart. But beer lovers have an unusual choice: Tiger beer sorbet.
It took ice cream maker Stanley Kwok, who considers Tiger draft his favorite thirst-quencher, 12 attempts to perfect the sorbet’s consistency. Foam and bubbles in the brew made the ice too airy, and alcohol takes longer to freeze than other liquids. But the efforts paid off: The final product is a perfect balance of the beer’s original crisp, citrusy flavors and subtle bitter hops, captured in a densely packed cold treat (and sold for S$2.80 per single scoop).
If you’re not keen on alcohol in your desserts, try the creamery’s trademarked Singapore special: teh tarik ice cream. Inspired by the frothy “pulled tea” traded in local Malay-Indian stalls, the scoop has all the intense tea flavor without the tooth-aching sweetness. —June Lee
4. OLIVE OIL GELATO
Olive oil, cheese, seasonal fruit, and grapes are some of Tuscany's great draws so why not use them in the country's famous gelato? That was the thinking of Ignazio Morviducci who opened Gelateria Toscana last year in Pienza. "Sure we have the classic flavors like Stracciatella and hazelnut, but I also wanted to highlight ingredients from even closer to home that represent this area." That was the genus of some of his offbeat flavors: an olive oil version, a pecorino and pear blend, and the popular panaforte flavor, based on the desert from Siena. His milk comes from the Maremma, the coastal part of Tuscany known for its sleek white cows; the olive oil from his own farm; and the pecorino from Cugusi, a farm on the road between Pienza and Montepulciano famous for this local cheese. But how does it taste? I go for the olive oil one and find it creamy, creamy with just the tiniest bite—like the best olive oil. Via E. Mangiavacchi, 3, Pienza (Siena); 39-0578-748-538. —Ondine Cohane
5. MANGO STICKY RICE
Hot weather signals ice cream time in many parts of the world, but summer is mango season in Thailand. An abundance of this sweet fruit means one dish is at nearly every restaurant, local market, and street vendor's cart through mid-July: mango and sticky rice, or khao neeo mamuang.
This simple dish pairs mango (usually the juicier nam dawk mai and ok rong varieties) with sticky rice that has absorbed coconut milk; the dessert is then is topped by more salted and sweetened coconut milk, and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. What makes one mango sticky rice stand out from the rest? It’s all about temperature: Contrary to what you might expect from a summer treat, you want the coconut milk topping and rice to be warm when served. —Jessica Beaton
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