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'Eat'aly - Part 4: Frozen!

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 19 November 2014 | Views [526]

If only I could have a gelato every day for the rest of my life! Why gelato and what is so special about it? Honestly, I kept asking myself that question every time I found myself – at any possible chance – about to turn the whole city upside down in search for a good one. That brings us to my very own “gelato conquest” – right in its homeland Italy.

The gelato I first nibbled on was found in Ferrara, in a quaint ice cream parlour (sadly I did not take note of the name). I came across it while Andrew and I were taking a stroll down the neighbourhood after checking in the hotel. Browsing the stall, I was astonished by the sheer numbers of gelato flavours, each imbued with a different characteristic: bright and smooth, mysteriously dark and chunky, playfully scarlet and fruity, etc. So many options, so little time. To make matter worse, all of them are labeled in Italian. I decided to take a wild guess and opted for ‘crema ouva’ and ‘zabaglione’ out of the massive colourful palette. Then, I anxiously waited as the ice cream lady dug a metal spatula into the mound of luscious frozen custard, scooped out a huge glob and skillfully smeared it on the rugged wafer cone. Like a child, I passionately buried my tongue in my treat, and with each dip take in a sizeable amount. “Rich flavor harmonised beautifully with velvety texture, and perfectly contrasted by crunchy thin fragrant biscuit.” The custard was strong and eggy to my liking, and the wafer was nutty and buttery. The wafer itself was special, one-of-a-kind. I wished to savour it longer, but unfortunately, the gelato melted rapidly in the afternoon heat in to a creamy mess and rushed down my hands, forcing me to gobble up quite barbarically the whole cone. Much to our surprise, my gelato was inexplicably bigger than his, perhaps the lady saw the eagerness in my eyes and suddenly felt more generous towards the little guy. As I was still struggling, Andrew – standing beside me – had already finished his fruit-flavoured one. I defeated it valiantly, and was “rewarded” with slimy fingers. That skimpy piece of tissue paper did not do much help though (Note taken: Always bring an abundance of wet wipes when having ice cream on the go). It was the first thing I lay my mouth on in Italy, and decidedly was a brilliant start of my delicious journey.

A couple of days later, I felt an urge to get a second helping of gelato. It was in Ravenna, and we finished our work relatively early that day, enough to squeeze in an afternoon treat before dinner. On our way back from the mosaic workshop, we stopped by a small gelateria… Wait a minute… we did not. Instead, we went to a charming cannoleria, and I am sure glad we did. It was discovered then that like me, Andrew also had his own sweet obsession – cannoli. A cannolo is a hollow tube of pastry filled with a creamy filling usually containing ricotta. Like gelato, it was “a love at first bite” for me. The textural contrast between the shell and the interior instantly captured my heart. Flavour-wise, the combination worked beautifully and offered a superb gastronomic sensation: rich and creamy, sweet but not sickly sweet with a slight tang and a hint of tartness. I understood why he loved it so much. Watching him degust his cannolo “grande” with great joy, I secretly wished I had been bolder to go for it instead of my “piccolo” one. Though having to suppress my craving for the time being, I was ecstatic – the cannoli were marvellous (and so unexpectedly, they were on the house – blimey!).

The following days saw us on our assignment from dawn to dusk. Therefore, not until in our very last destination – Bologna did I get the chance to find that frozen indulgence again before heading back home. And there began my “gelato marathon”. “It’s a wrap!” and we immediately got ready for our last night out in Italy. Soon Andrew and I found ourselves, with our favourite delights in hands – cannolo and gelato respectively… drowned in disappointment. His cannolo was soggy and tasteless, and mine hazelnut gelato was rather bland and watery. They were absolutely subpar, accredited by the fact that they were from some touristy, main-street shops. (Note taken: Remember to get recommendation for food vendors from locals). Huge mistakes! The cannolo was sent to the trash half-eaten, and I did not bother to take a second bite at the wafer. At least all is not lost for me when I still had another day before taking off. Gelato, I’m coming for you!

The last day…

Having packed my luggage, I left the hotel and ventured out to finish what I started. The receptionist (at the hotel) kindly dropped me some names, and I waited no time to get back on my feet. First one on my list was “Gelateria Gianni”, an award-wining ice cream parlour. Stepping inside, I was overwhelmed by the array of gelato flavours displayed attractive in glass-windowed refrigerators from the entrance all the way to the back of the store. Different shapes and sizes of wafer lay neatly on top of those fridges. A steady stream of customers circulated the store; some were enjoying their treats inside at the modest tables scattered around the place. A crowded business – undoubtedly a good sign. This time I entrusted the clerk with the choice of flavours and had him make me a combination of pistachio and chocolate-swirled vanilla. My favourite part when buying a gelato (besides eating) is watching the ice cream man/lady serves it. Observing the consistency of the gelato when being worked, one can really tell why it is so superior to regular commercial ice cream. Less air incorporated into the mixture grants gelato a dense and full bodied texture, while slightly warmer serving temperature allows it to become soft and pliable. The gelato came in a wafer cone as usual and (thankfully) with a tiny plastic spoon, which accommodated for a somewhat more “civilised” eating fashion. By look, the two flavours contrasted quite nicely: tint of green on pale yellow, adorned with traces of dark brown. How enticing!  Slurp... Pure indulgence! Sweet, it was sweet, enhanced by the unmistakable nutty aroma and richness of pistachio and counteracted by the potency of chocolate. On account of the relative lower fat content, the gelato melted quickly in my mouth and coated my palate with a clean and intense flavour then dissipated in a snap, leaving the longing for another mouthful. The presence of crunchy biscuit, in addition, truly brought the ensemble to another level. It was always a mess for me whenever I had a gelato, luckily this time I came prepared. Even though it was quite rich to finish the whole thing, I enjoyed it to the last bit. I thought that was the end of my conquest.

Quarter past four, running back to the hotel for the pickup, I passed by another lovely gelateria – Venchy, and miserably failed to resist its charm. The luminous lighting of the shop nicely complemented the mouth-watering gelato trays. In fact, they looked good enough to lure in any unsuspecting pedestrians, urging them to reach for their wallets. Like a moth to a flame, I fell right into their trap. Despite the diminishing space in my stomach, I convinced myself that there was still enough room for one more. I chose the one flavour that “popped” the most – cherry and paired it with another fruit – lime, with intention to keep this last gelato light and fresh. I skipped the wafer so as to avoid a mess and enjoy the ice cream with cup and spoon. Sexy crimson on snow white, deeply sweet and zesty, the two flavours introduced a refreshing vibe, imparting the right amount of acidity which was perfect for a palate cleanser. It was actually closer to a sorbet than a typical gelato, but I could not care less. I wholeheartedly savoured every spoon and tried my hardest to remember every distinct note of flavour, knowing that my Italian food expedition was reaching its conclusion.

A cone of ice cream, a frozen treat as it may be, a gelato was a crucial part of my Italian journey, the first and last course of my Italian feast, and probably the most vivid piece of my Italian memories. Dying to get another one…

 

Tags: eataty, emilia-romagna, gelato, passport & plate: italy 2014

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