I’ve always been a proficient digester of dairy products. Besides my 14 mile-per-gallon compact SUV, one of the things I miss most about Western culture is good cheese. I would give up Sichuan peppers for a week just for a bite of Morbier or a slab of Beaufort covered in fig jam right about now. It’s a good thing I go to Paris in less than two weeks.
The reason I bring up cheese, and my unrivalled ability to direct it through my gastrointestinal tract, is that I have developed an unlikely relationship with an unconventional food group amongst my daily intake of noodle and pork everything. In East Asia, where the National Institutes of Health estimates that “90 percent of adults in some communities” are lactose intolerant, I have found a way to eat way more industrial-grade pre-packaged ice cream than is advisable.
Why? Well, it’s flames.
China’s dairy demand has skyrocketed in the last few years, as its citizens seem willing to put aside some mild indigestion and a trip to the public outhouse if it means adopting another staple of rich Westerners’ diets. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Chinese milk consumption has increased 25-fold in the past 25 years. China has become the fourth-largest contributor to the global milk supply. Though I haven’t been drinking too much of the white stuff while here (see 2008 Chinese Milk Scandal) I’ve completely let myself go on the convenience store-supplied ice cream front, for better or worse. Probably much worse.
Below I rank three noteworthy flavors, from freaking weird to Christina Tosi-level-craftsmanship.
More often than not this variety of prepackaged ice cream is at least some degree of freezer-burnt when I scoop it out of the bottom of a Family Mart or Lawson’s freezer. Perhaps I’m just an idiot, and will never understand Beijing’s ice cream game, but I promise you the first time you have it, it’s good. The flavor is novel, and somewhat refreshing in a super-duper wrong way. It packs a bit of a grainy punch in the mouthfeel department, but I don’t think it’s worthy of ridicule. Someone, in some hilariously well-endowed food lab here, knew this was the move.
This one makes the list for being the ice cream most likely to give Ben and Jerry a run for their money in the States, so long as you can get over the fact that it paints your tongue and lips ash-black. For, like, hours. The whole thing is coconut and black sesame, I’m pretty sure, but I don’t really know what that means – it’s five kuai (75 cents) and usually gone before I actually savor its inky goodness on my tongue. It’s wet cement – that has no right being so good.
A little piece of me was transported to a farm in Iowa when I first bit in to one of these babies. I could almost hear the jagged edges of a Rick Santorum stump speech echoing in the distance. I’m kidding, of course, because these don’t really taste like corn, or even the syrup derivative responsible for America’s obesity epidemic (Mikey Pollan, where we at?) No, it tastes like something that could be sold for $9 an ounce in Williamsburg, and I’m not kidding when I say I’d think about paying up for the privilege. It’s a creamy, hard-to-identify flavored conical ice cream stuffed inside of a chewy, wafer prophylactic. And stuck on a stick.
I could tell you more about the melon-meets-banana thing, the ubiquitous durian ice pops or the “Russian style pure taste milk” bars adorned with an image of the Kremlin. But I am two weeks away from raiding a Parisian fromagerie to continue any further. A bientot.