Japan has mochi ice cream. Taiwan has ice cream "burritos" (crepes topped with cilantro and peanut-candy shavings). And in Thailand, street vendors hawk something called the ice cream "roll" — a thin layer of ice cream that gets scraped up in a way that forms tight coils roughly the size and shape of a Fruit Roll-Up.
The ice cream rolls, aka "stir-fried" ice cream, also happen to be the latest Asian ice cream sensation to hit the East Bay, thanks to Freezing Point Creamery (349 7th St.), a new ice cream shop that opened last week in Oakland Chinatown.
The crowds have already descended. The wait at around 7 p.m. on a Saturday night was well over twenty minutes, in part due to the fact that an order takes at least two or three minutes to prepare — and sometimes quite a bit longer, it seemed, perhaps due to the fact that the store's employees are still getting trained.
Still, the entertainment value of watching the staff make the ice cream rolls is half of what you're paying for. Here's how it works: The person making the rolls pours the liquid ice cream base onto a very cold metal pan, which immediately starts to freeze the ice cream. Then, the primary topping you've picked — say, fresh strawberries or an Oreo cookie — gets placed on top and mashed in very finely, the steel scrapers deployed here in a vigorous double-handed chopping motion. The entire mixture gets smoothed out, spread thin, and, finally, scraped into rolls. The whole process is like a cross between making a griddle-chopped cheesesteak (or Japanese teppanyaki) and Cold Stone Creamery. Frankly, it looks exhausting.
The verdict? The rolls are worth trying at least once for the novelty, but the ice cream itself was just okay. It's a textural thing more than anything else. One of the main reasons that traditional ice cream is churned while it's freezing is to add air to the mix, which helps make the end product creamy, but also somewhat fluffy and light. Because rolled ice cream removes that part of the process from the equation, you wind up with ice cream that's dense and oddly sticky.
That said, there is good reason to make a special trip to Freezing Point: to try their regular, non-rolled ice cream — specifically the house-made Asian flavors, which constituted two out of the eight or so total on offer during my visit. For now, the shop is making an avocado flavor and, most notably, a durian flavor that was easily one of the most memorable scoops of ice cream I've eaten this year.
Are you familiar with durian? The spiky, famously pungent tropical fruit has such a strong odor — which haters liken to rotting flesh or hot trash — that people are forbidden from carrying it on public transportation in many Asian cities. But proponents wax poetic about the fruit's custardy texture and its buttery, cheese-like flavor. Made with fresh durian, Freezing Point's ice cream captures those qualities better than any other durian dessert I've tried.
If you head over to Freezing Point during its grand-opening period between now and October 15, you'll get a dollar off each roll or scoop. The regular prices are $7 and $3, respectively.
Waiting for Uji Time
In other Asian ice cream news, I'm somewhat late to the game when it comes to the Instagram phenomenon and dessert trend du jour that is the fish-shaped taiyaki ice cream cone. The treat is available at Uji Time Dessert (2575 Telegraph Ave.), a newish Japanese dessert shop in Berkeley that shares a space with the shaved snow shop Vampire Penguin. But if you've been thinking about giving it a try, here's what you need to know:
1. First off, the line is fairly bananas — a half-hour wait on a recent Saturday afternoon, despite the fact that I arrived just minutes after opening. You can tell which side of the room is occupied by Uji Time (the left) by the long, slow-moving queue that stretches along one wall.
2. A taiyaki is a kind of fish-shaped cake popular in Japan (tai means "sea bream"). The cakes are baked to order in a cast-iron mold, and are often filled with red bean paste. The taiyaki ice cream cones are basically a super-sized version of these cakes, with an opening at the mouth end that gets filled with soft-serve ice cream — quite exceptional soft-serve ice cream, in the case of Uji Time, especially if you opt for the black sesame flavor. The warm, just-baked "cone" has some of the exterior crispness of a waffle cone, but also the softness of pancake. And once you finish all of the ice cream and bite into the body of the fish — surprise! — you'll discover some of that red bean paste filling inside. In that way, it is like two desserts in one.
3. I actually preferred the regular, non-ice-cream-filled mini taiyaki, which come filled with either red bean paste or Nutella. The proportion of crisp exterior to soft, fluffy interior was just better. Eat them right away while they're still warm, before the outside loses its crispness.
Whether it's worth the wait is up to you to decide.