LOS ANGELES— A trip to some ice cream shops in Los Angeles is like taking an overseas vacation for the senses.
At one store, called Ice Cream Lab, the frozen dessert is made to order. Customers watch as a liquid ice cream base is poured into a bowl and then an odorless smoke appears from the mixture.
“It was a concept that I saw when I was back home in Hong Kong,” said Tommy Ngan.
He and his former schoolmate-turned-business partner, Joseph Lifschutz, make ice cream with liquid nitrogen.
“It’s used as an instant freezer," Lifschutz said. "It kind of touches everything in the bowl and evaporates, which is why you see the whole smoke show.”
A few kilometers away, customers at the Blockheads Shavery Company hear the sound of ice cream before they ever see it. A block of ice is placed on a machine and then shaved. The flavors include green tea and black sesame. General Manager Brian Liang got the idea of shaved ice while growing up in Taiwan.
“We call it snow cream," said Liang. "It’s a cross between shaved ice, so it has the light airy texture, and the creamy taste of ice cream. The dessert is actually pretty popular in Taiwan, basically the owners kind of grew up eating it. ”
Thirty minutes away from the flavors of the Far East are ice creams from the Middle East at Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream shop. With a 34-year history, Iranian American Mashti Shirvani makes Persian-style ice cream.
“I do the old-fashioned way when I make any food anything," Shirvani said. "I don’t measure it. Just my eyes and my hand.”
His ice cream creations include ingredients such as ginger, saffron, lavender, orange blossom and rose water, and he is constantly creating new flavors. While many of his flavors are Persian, his ice cream is not.
“Because in Iran they make ice milk," Shirvani said. "Here I do ice cream. It is totally different.”
The result is a creamier mixture with higher fat content.
Even with the differences in what goes into making ice cream, Shirvani’s brother, Mehdi, says there is something about this cold creamy dessert that has universal appeal.
“Ice cream is the most affordable antidepressant," he said. "I mean come on, you’re not happy, you eat ice cream, you become happy. If you’re happy, you want to be more happy, you eat ice cream.”
Which might explain why so many cultures love ice cream and why people are constantly trying to reinvent this ice cold treat.