Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bangkok Ice Cream Festival 2013; Miangkham ice cream reigns supreme

Shortly after I got off the plane from Bali, my family and I happened to stumble upon a gold mine, the 2013 Ice Cream Festival at Central Plaza.  I attended the previous year's festival, but didn't quite get to explore as much as I would like to.  So, when this opportunity came up, I gave up my health conscious choices and just went all out.  The ice cream festival brought together all types of popular vendors and different genres of ice creams you could dream of.  It was truly a sweet-tooth haven for both adults and children alike.  You would find anything from soft-serve to gelato, sorbet, Turkish ice cream, mochi ice cream, "egg ice cream", even Marble Slab-esque ice cream.  

What I was focusing on was the increase in vendors producing ice creams based on seasonal Thai fruits, and transforming traditional Thai desserts and street food snacks into delicious, one of a kind ice cream flavours.  I feel it is a form of a growing trend to support and preserve traditional Thai cuisine, while still infusing what seems to work at an international level.  The result is usually some exotic and unique creations I probably wouldn't find anywhere else.  Thai people can get really creative when it comes to food, mixing ingredients that people would deem "taboo".  Their ice creams are no different.  Salted eggs? Salted fish? Dried shrimp flavour? There are less extreme ones too like coconut pandan, mango sticky rice, or Thai milk tea which are more subtle but so good.  So far, the respond by locals have been very positive as well.  There seems to be a growing demand for Thai ice creams and sorbets, thus increasing its popularity and competition.  

This led us to our first stop at the humble Onemore ice cream shop where the sign boasted images of specialty ice cream and sorbets made with Thai fruits you would find at local markets like guava, and passionfruit (all made from natural ingredients).  They're also served the way I remember as I was growing up, with salt, sugar and chili.  The ladies were generous enough to let us try a bunch of flavours, all of which were delicious.  While it was a hard decision to make, their specialty flavours really caught our eye; miangkham flavour and som tum flavour ice creams.  

"Miangkham" is a traditional Thai snack consist of chaplu or la lop leaves, which are robust with a distinct bitter flavour, used as a wrap for fillings.  They include chili, dried shrimp, shallots, garlic, ginger, lime bits with peel, roasted ground peanuts, and dried coconut flakes. It is topped with a viscous sweet and savoury sauce made with palm sugar and fish sauce.  The result is a uniquely vibrant and  strong combination of herbal flavours.  I have to say that miangkham tastes as authentic and traditional as it looks.

I couldn't believe there was an ice cream version of miangkham out for us to try today.  It was definitely one of the items on my food list to cross off while I'm in Thailand.  To be honest, I was a little scared of how the ice cream would turn out.  Chaplu leaves do not exactly have the subtle, gentle flavour, but rather a strong and bitter taste.  If you are looking for an authentic cultural and culinary experience, this leaf is one you should try.  Our miangkham ice cream, or sorbet, was served in a flower clay bowl, which you could take home after.  The vendor then dressed our bowl with toppings such as dried shrimp, lime, ginger, ground peanuts, and the savoury syrup.  It looked like the real deal.  After one bite, I was thoroughly impressed.   It looked like miangkham, and it tasted like miangkham.  Thankfully, the chaplu sorbet was not too overwhelming.  Instead, it was very light and had a lot of lime zest.  So, it was a rather refreshing and intriguing treat.  While I wouldn't call this one a dessert, but more like a really cool snack, it is an impressive new take on a traditional Thai appetizer that deserves to be served at 5 star Thai restaurants all over the world.
Miangkham ice cream all dressed to impress
Since the first ice cream was a hit, we later circled back and got a second hit.  This time, it was the refreshing gooseberry sorbet topped with syrup and crusted with salt, sugar and chili flakes.  Gooseberry by itself is normally extremely sour and tart.  Seasoning with salt, sugar and chili flakes not only balance out the flavour but also adds an extra kick or two to make life more interesting.  Eating this sorbet would make any Thai person feel nostalgic growing up.  Not only from buying the fruits which would come in a clear bag with a separated sugar-salt for dipping, but any Thai adolescent may have experienced being disciplined by a gooseberry branch at some point when they stepped out of line.
Crusted gooseberry sorbet
Another stop worthy of mentioning is another Thai ice cream vendor "Pad Boke Ice Cream", which also specializes in traditional Thai ice cream flavours.  We opted for apple custard sorbet for 35 bath or around $1.  This sorbet had no single trace of anything artificial in there and tasted natural and custardy like the fruit's namesake.  We found big chunks of the actual fruit mixed inside the sorbet. We really wanted to try the mango sticky rice ice cream from here too!! If only we had more stomachs....

I cannot believe we gave up mango sticky rice ice cream, young coconut pandan, passion fruit, or even 'kanom krok' ice cream for this last piece......

From Kyoto, Japan, Kyo Roll En ice cream looked pretty cool half black half matcha green.  At first I thought it was sesame flavour but later learned it was "sumi" flavour made from bamboo charcoal.  Seemed unique enough... and I'm a huge fan of matcha soft serve.  I have to say that our experience was mildly hampered by the sales lady whom I could only describe as a b*atch (a justifiable term on so many levels).  At any rate, the ice cream was nice, but didn't taste any different than other regular soft-serve.  The bonus side of this ice cream is that charcoal contains detoxifying agents that help cleanse the intestinal tract and act as anti-bacterial agent as well.  
Sumi-matcha flavoured soft-serve

Apparently today was the last day and I must I admit, I'm quite distraught.  Another vendor on the list to check out is Itim Yuk, another master of Thai ice creams.