Best ice cream

ITN asked, “Where have you had the best ice cream outside of the United States?” In the last two issues, subscribers have shared their favorite ice cream parlors in Italy and in the Western Hemisphere (sans USA). This month they take you around the world.

Gelato shop offerings in Annecy, France.

On the small island of Ile St-Louis, in the middle of the Seine River in PARIS, France, I tasted “the best ice cream in the world” during my May 2010 trip.

At 31 rue Saint Louis I found Berthillon (31 rue St Louis en l’ile, 75004 Paris, France; phone 01 43 54 31 61 [website in French only]). Berthillon ice cream is sold in other places, but a friend suggested we go to the original store that has been there for over 50 years.

The ice cream is soft and creamy and made of fresh natural ingredients with no preservatives. They offer an interesting array of flavors, including some unusual concoctions like pralines with lemon and caramel and salty butter. I tried pistachio nuts. Wonderful! It was like eating fresh, salty pistachio nuts in cream.

The price for a single scoop (cup or cone) of ice cream was €3.8 (about $5). I will definitely return.

Julie Cassen

Charlotte, NC

I took a trip to the Alpine countries with my daughter and two granddaughters in 2004. At a gelato shop on a narrow, winding street of ANNECY, France, beside one of its nostalgic canals, I tasted the best gelato I had ever eaten.

From the variety of delicious flavors offered, my daughter and I favored the passion fruit and mango while my granddaughters preferred the blue-colored bubble gum flavor.

• On an amazing trip to the Baltic States in 2009, my daughter and I visited the quaint city of VILNIUS, Lithuania. There, within sight of the glowing white Vilnius Cathedral and bell tower, we found a gelato shop. Its tangy “pink grapefruit” lured us back for more double dips throughout our stay.

Glenna Lybrand

Mount Ida, AR

A few years ago my husband and I were in MARRAKESH, Morocco, wandering around the main square, the Djemaa el-Fna. Fatigue suddenly hit us, so we sat at a table at a gelato shop at the edge of the square to people-watch.

I am a complete fool when it comes to figs, and when I spied fig gelato on the menu, I had to have some. Cold, sweet and full of flavor, it was simply elegant — everything gelato should be and then some. I don’t think I have ever eaten anything so truly perfect in my life!

I wish I could remember the name of the shop and its exact location, but I can’t. The square is not that big, and there aren’t that many gelato shops, so a careful scrutiny of the menus in a few gelato shops there would probably turn up that wonderful, figgy concoction that did my soul so much good!

Lila Dickey

Albuquerque, NM

My husband, Chuck, and I are often in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. If we get a rainy Saturday there, as we did in May 2010, we pull out the handy Swiss Pass and head south to the market in DOMODOSSOLA, Italy.

Just outside the train station, to the left as you leave the front door, there is a round kiosk where snacks, drinks and gelati are sold. We stopped there on our way down to the market and perused the 20 or so offerings available: lemon, tiramisù, wild berry, melon, mango, dark chocolate, pistachio, amarena (black cherry), caramel, raspberry, cinnamon, cappuccino, stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate) and many more we didn’t recognize.

I had dark chocolate and cappuccino flecked with bits of bittersweet chocolate. Chuck had pistachio and wild berry. The proprietor ladeled the gelato onto the cones with a paddle, and the cost for the two enormous heaps was €1.50 per cone.

We ate the gelato while strolling through the market and on our way back to the train. Well, you can guess where our next €3 went. Don’t miss this if you are in Domodossola.

Elizabeth Johnson

Lee’s Summit, MO

We found the best ice cream at the Gelateria in the Piazza della Signoria in FLORENCE, Italy, in May 2007. It was on the north side of the square and near the replica of the statue of “David.”

The gelato cost €1.50 for one scoop.

Linda Creager

Stillwater, MN

The best ice cream? Smoothest? Nuttiest? Most flavorful? I nominate the white, pistachio-studded offerings at the Bakdash shop in DAMASCUS, Syria.

Inside Bakdash ice cream shop in Damascus. Photo: Stiles

Located on the main thoroughfare in the Hamidiyeh souk, about a third of the way before the Umayyad mosque, Bakdash is supposedly Syria’s first ice cream outlet, having been founded around 1890. It is still owned by the same family.

There are crowds of other people who also know it is the best in the world, so you have to wait with the assembled worshipers at this temple of ice cream as the line snakes to the cashier.

But how do you order when you really don’t know what is on offer? It doesn’t matter. You simply pay, get a token and head for the counter. There are mounds of ice cream there, and each is studded with whole, absolutely crunchy pistachios. Exchanging a token gets you your own cup of the ambrosia.

A serving cost about 25 Syrian pounds, each pound worth two cents US, so a big dish of this lovely confection cost about 50¢ (October ’08).

As elsewhere in the Middle East, the ice cream is made with mastic, a vegetable gum exuded by the mastic tree, a Mediterranean shrub. It confers a slightly chewy quality that is unique; the ice cream can even be stretched like taffy. Meltingly soft, it usually is flavored with rose water instead of vanilla. It’s excellent.

Various flavors are offered, but the crowd at the counter pressed us to simply get what was already dished out. To try almond, rose water, mint or anther specific flavor, just be as assertive as the other customers.

The portions were substantial. I started out with one, then went back for another. When I considered a third (or a sampling of the other desserts), the long line discouraged me. If I had to do it over again, I would have ordered at least one dish of every flavor in the shop, but it was warm in there and the ice cream had to be consumed quickly.

It was easily the best of the many delicious ice creams we had in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that means it is the best ice cream, period.

James W. Stiles

Federal Way, WA

On a one-day cruise ship stop in MAZATLÁN, Mexico, in December ’09, we explored the beautifully restored Centro Histórico, within walking distance of the port.

After seeing many online recommendations, we knew that lunch at Te Amo Lucy’s Taqueria y Mas at Loro de Oro Inn (Constitución 622, Centro Histórico, Mazatlán, Sinaloa, México 82000; phone, in Mexico, 982 89 96 or, in the US/Canada, 714/927-7756, www.mazinfo.com/lucys/index.htm) was going to be good, but we were unprepared for how good the homemade ice cream would be.

For a couple of dollars each, we both enjoyed the coffee-flavored ice cream. We had to have seconds; it was that good. (Since the ice cream is homemade, the flavors may change.) We will be back.

Joan Livingston

Santa Barbara, CA

At the back side of the Night Market in CAIRNS, Queensland, Australia, in December ’09, I found ripe cherry ice cream: cherry-flavored ice cream with pieces of cherries, dark chocolate and coconut in it. It cost about AUD1.50 ($1.40) for a single scoop.

Fern Hall

San Diego, CA

Ice cream is one of my favorite delicacies, and as I’ve traveled many places in the world I’ve partaken of everything from 31 Flavors in the US to Berthillon ice cream in France. All have been good, but, to this day, the best and most unusual I have ever found is sesame seed ice cream in Japan.

My first experience with sesame seed ice cream was in Kyoto, although it can be found in most parts of the country. What makes it so interesting is that it looks like soft-serve concrete, which appears anything but desirable, but its taste is so lightly sweet, with just a hint of sesame seed, it’s impossible to stop eating it.

Sesame seed ice cream is readily available from street vendors and in stores. I found the soft-serve version at a street vendor’s on the walkway leading to the Kiyomizu Shrine in Kyoto. There are black-seed and light-colored-seed versions, and both taste sweet and nutty. The last time I had it was in summer 2007.

Edwin Tobias Earl

Laguna Beach, CA

Forget Italian gelato! The very best ice cream I have eaten in my entire life was at Nylon Ice Cream Bar, located at 176 83rd Street in MANDALAY, Myanmar. We found Nylon through my Lonely Planet guide, and during a three-day stay in 2003, my friends and I stopped there no fewer than three times each day.

Glenna Lybrand’s granddaughters Sara and Katie enjoying bubble-gum-flavored gelato in 2004. Photos: Lybrand

The Nai Lon family keeps the place spotless, and the ice cream is homemade, using milk from the family’s own dairy cows; this gives a real freshness and quality to the ice cream. Yes, the ice cream is unbelievably delicious, but until you try the kulfi, you have not experienced ultimate ice cream bliss.

I had always thought of kulfi as Indian-style ice cream — a bit richer but still ice cream. At Nylon Ice Cream Bar, the kulfi achieves an unparalleled lightness and richness by having fresh homemade ice cream blended with fresh homemade custard.

Now, embrace your inner Southeast Asian and go one step further. Order the durian kulfi (2,000 kyat, or about $1.50). It is not to be believed.

True, Westerners sometimes cannot get past the stinky smell. And, yes, the taste is exotic to the Western palate. Get past that, however, and you’ll discover that the creamy flesh and exotic taste of the durian fruit adds a truly silky consistency to the already creamy ice cream/custard kulfi that cannot be achieved by using any other fruit.

You’ll have no problem ordering. The staff spoke English, and there are pictures of everything on an overhead menu, so you can point at your desired selection.

My idea of ice cream paradise will always be a lazy morning, afternoon or evening with another durian kulfi from Nylon Ice Cream Bar in Mandalay.

Greg Dimmitt

Fallbrook, CA