Thai rolled ice cream -- also known as stir-fried ice cream -- is a global phenomenon of ice cream delight. This unique style of ice cream is not pulled from frozen buckets by the scoop, instead its liquid base is poured onto a frozen pan and then chopped, mixed, spread and rolled right in front of you. To learn more about it, our contributor Melissa Clark talked with Pheng Vang, who owns two Thai Rolled Ice Cream parlors called Sota Hot & Cold in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. We also wanted to see the fast-paced action of making Thai rolled ice cream for ourselves, so we stopped by Sota Hot & Cold and produced the video above.
Melissa Clark: What is Thai ice cream?
Pheng Vang: Thai ice cream is your regular ice cream, it's just presented in a different way; it's made fresh right in front of you. We take the ice cream in the liquid form, get the mixtures all right, add some flavoring if you want to. And then what we do is we pour that ice cream mix over a freezing stainless steel plate and make it fresh right in front of you. It's the freshest form of ice cream that you can get right now, because everything is made right in front of you and everything is made to order.
Pheng Vang Photo: Sota Hot & Cold
MC: You take the ice cream base and pour it on this freezing cold steel plate. How do you get it off? Tell us the process.
PV: The nickname for Thai rolled ice cream is actually “stir-fried ice cream.” It’s exactly the same as a stir-fry, but instead of using a very hot surface like a wok, you're using a very cold surface. And then you're basically stir-frying the ice cream by churning it with your hands using metal knives. Once it's solidified as ice cream, you flatten it onto the pan. Then you use the knives – they look like paint scrapers – to scrape the ice cream off. When you scrape ice cream off it rolls nicely into little rolls. You put those rolls in a cup, top it, and eat it with a spoon. It’s little bit different from traditional ice cream because it doesn't come in a cone; it comes in a cup that you eat with a spoon.
MC: Stir-fry is a good analogy. Or making a crepe, except cold. You have the liquid base, you pour it flat, spread it around and roll it up.
PV: You spread it out flat as can be. Once it's flattened it freezes over into solid ice cream. Use the knife to scrape it over and roll it into rolls. You get a nice, very creamy ice cream for sure.
MC: How does the flavor or the texture differ to Western ice cream that I'm used to? Tell me about the differences.
PV: The texture is different because when you're making the rolled ice cream, initially it's a lot harder or more firm than traditional ice cream. It feels like when you're sticking your spoon in it, it's not as creamy. But as soon as the ice cream is exposed to some form of heat, like inside your mouth, then it immediately liquefies and it turns into this really creamy texture. So, it's kind of deceiving at first. And it's a lot creamier than the traditional scoop ice cream that you would find you know at any other scoop shop.
MC: When did you first taste it?
PV: A couple of years ago I saw on social media this new form of ice cream I thought was really cool. And then coincidentally at that same exact time I had a trip booked to go to Thailand. I went to Thailand and I was in Chiang Mai, and we went to one of the night markets there. I saw it being made and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to try this!” I went over and stood in line for like an hour with everyone else. When I finally tasted it I thought it was amazing. It was not only the ice cream itself, but the process of making the ice cream that blew my mind. That was the first time I had it, and I was immediately hooked. Then I came back to the U.S. and I was in New York and I actually had it there as well. And so, I just became infatuated with Thai rolled ice cream ideas. That's when it began.
Delicious creations from Sota Hot & Cold. Left - Matcha Gotcha: green tea ice cream topped with berries and avocado (left). Right - Espresso Express: espresso ice cream topped with candy straws, Graham crackers and chocolate syrup. Photos: Chip Walton
MC: Is this a traditional Thai ice cream or is this a new thing? I mean is it new in Thailand and new here, or is it old there and just new for us?
PV: No, it's fairly new there as well. Because it's so new and because it's kind of found everywhere in Southeast Asia, it's hard to pinpoint where Thai rolled ice cream's origins are. But I think the reason why we call it Thai-rolled ice cream is because that's where it became popularized, in the Thai street markets, and then it spread all over Southeast Asia.
MC: Social media made this thing spread like crazy, right? Because people could see these wonderful images.
PV: Definitely. I think the introduction of social media over the last five years has definitely helped spread a lot of the popularity in regards to Thai rolled ice cream.
MC: Tell us about the different flavors.
PV: Thai rolled ice cream is really cool because it has the flexibility of choosing whatever flavors you want. You just start out with a basic ice cream mix and then you can add in anything you want. It can go from anything as simple as chocolate to something as exotic as a dragon fruit or durian or anything like that. It's just a matter of kind of what you want in there. The other really cool thing about Thai rolled ice cream is that you can modify and add whatever flavor you want to it right then and there. That keeps people interested and keeps people looking forward to their next stop because there's so many flavors and so many combinations that you can make. We focus on trying to be true to ice cream itself. So, we stick to familiar flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry. And then we have some mango flavor and stuff like that.
MC: Those are for the bases. And then for the mix-ins people can get pretty crazy.
PV: Especially right now with like all of the extract and flavorings that are out there. You can really turn the ice cream base into any flavor you want; it is just a matter of how exotic you kind of want to get with the flavors.
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Melissa Clark is a food writer and author. She is a food columnist for The New York Times, and has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart. She is the author of Dinner in an Instant, Cook This Now, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite and 32 other cookbooks.