LEGENDS BEHIND THE HISTORY OF ICE-CREAMS
Thought would start this post a little differently. During my visit to Rome in 2008, I was introduced to Gelato in a very different way. We of course had seen a sprouting of Gelato parlours in Mumbai, for a couple of years by then, but the Gelato café’s in Rome just took my breath away. One in particular that I do remember was Gelateria del Teatro, located somewhere near Piazza Navona. I still cannot forget the Thyme-Raspberry I had… or the Basil-White Chocolate. Never really knew herbs could be used in ice-creams, let alone gelato! I mean thyme in a cream / milk mixture!
Recently, after a really long time, I had gelato in Singapore. Singapore has so many types of desserts to offer, that we had started skipping the ice-creams here. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, we went on an ice-cream frenzy last week, and this is second in the installment of the Ice Cream Escapades.
But before I move on the Geletaria Italia, my first gelato in Singapore, a small detour…
If food and travel are my first love, then history come in second. And like any history freak, I love legends. They make for an interesting read! So when I got down to go some wiki reading, I was amazed at how many legends revolve around ice-cream and its history!
The first recorded inventors of ice-cream are said to be during the era of Chinese King Tang. It is believed that he had ‘Icemen’ who would prepare frozen delicacy using buffalo milk and rice. However, the idea of ice with fruits or fruit juices, the origin of sorbet, is often credited to the middle-east and Persians… although there is no real hard evidence of any of these facts. It is also believed that Roman Emperors used to order that ice be brought down from the volcanic mountains of Etna and Vesuvius, which they then consumed with honey. Now that is something I would aspire to try! Just how and who invented the technique of bringing in the freezing point of ice is unknown, but ice and salt mixtures were achieved as early as the AD 400s. The first written record of technicalities of ice making using various salts is by an Arab historian Ibn Abu Usaybi in AD 1200s.
While origin of ice frozen desserts might be an Asian discovery, it first came to the Western world, primarily Europe though Italy, when Marco Polo traveled to China and came back with memoirs of frozen desserts that combined milk and ice together. Again, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this, but I like this story!
The history of Gelato dates back to the 16th century, although after surfing through various sources, I realized there seems a lot of confusion on credits! The most popular story goes something like this… It is said that the famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition. Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight. The news of Ruggeri’s talent traveled quickly and Caterina de Medici took Ruggeri with her to France. Caterina was convinced that only he could rival the fine desserts of French chefs – and had to make his specialty at her wedding to the future King of France.
So taken were they with the frozen dessert, that the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Thus, Buontalenti is considered the inventor of gelato, as per recorded history.
However, gelato achieved widespread frenzy when Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a famous restaurateur, moved from Palermo to Paris and opened a café that served refined gelato in small glasses that resembled egg cups. The Procope, as the café was known, soon became hugely successful and gelato spread throughout France and into other parts of Europe.
Iced cream first reached United Kingdom under King Charles I regime, so much was the frenzy of this exotic dessert, that it is believed that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime of pension to keep the formula a secret. The Americans had to wait until 1800 to get their first taste of ice cream.
There are very few fact based evidences to support most of these legends, but it is interesting to know that the word ice cream it seems was first published in Oxford dictionary in 1740s.
The primary difference between the gelato and ice-cream is the texture and consistency. Gelato tends to be smoother and thicker than ice-creams and it tends to contain lesser air. Gelato melts quickly, therefore, it is stored at a much higher temperature than normal ice-cream.
I never actually thought to look it up before… but a big lesson learnt. Even the most work-a-day things in life can have some amazing backstories!
Coming back to Gelateria Italia, they set up their first store two years ago, in 2011, at Plaza Singapura and today have stores across the island.
On our return from our daily night walk, last week, we passed through Bugis+, and stopped at Gelateria Italia, because we just couldn’t help it. The first thing that hits you when you are walking past Gelateria Italia is the amazing number of flavours available. The colours, the presentation just draws you closer!
On closer analysis of the flavours we realized that there were some absolutely unique gelato flavours and sorbets available. We spent a good 5 minutes actually looking at various flavours trying to decide which one to have. “We will share one…” I declared, not wanting to have ice-cream 2 nights in a row. What followed was a treat.
The friendly staff approached and lightly asked us, if we would like to try the different flavours. And it all went wrong after that… “That one,” I quickly pointed towards a gelato that was Baileys Irish Cream flavour. Hubby picked “Red label”. “I have never even tasted the drink,” he smiled.
After that we ended up trying:
 Hazzlenut: creamy with nicely spread out chunks
 Dark Truffle Chocolate: Smooth, with well spread bitterness (my mom, the dark chocolate fan will love this…)
 Raspberry: It was quite tangy, compared to the others… so not to my taste, but it looked beautiful.
 Strawberry: Nice, smooth and beautifully blended.
 Durian: I am not a huge durian fan, but the flavour here was quite okay, even for someone like me who has tried her level best to stand the smell and failed, miserably!
 Lime: I loved the lime!
 Vanilla: Yummm… nothing like a well-made vanilla treat. The small black freckles are blended vanilla pods.
 Mango: Fresh and flavourful with chunks of actual fruit… quite refreshing.
A tip: The place has a number of flavours, and you do not have to order all to taste them. A suggestion, taste as many as you think you would like to try, and then make your choice. The staff is extremely patient and friendly, and will encourage you to try the flavours. For me, it was a honey trap, for having vehemently declared that we will order just one, we ended up ordering two, and tasting about 5 apiece! One other thing, if you do not wish to order just one flavour, you can try out a combination as well… two flavours in 1 serving! Not a bad deal.
How much does it cost: A small cup, without the waffle cone costs around S$ 5… but the serving size is good… in fact for those not in a mood for the whole serving can definitely share.
The Verdict: Go try it for yourself. Their Bugis+ outlet has comfortable seating… a good hangout place for those wanting something other than coffee. While, the flavours did not equal in number to the gelato cafes in Italy… there was a wide spread. A spread you should definitely try out!
The source for the information under history of ice-cream is various links on google… it is an extract… and facts are not verified.