10 Fascinating Ice Cream Traditions Around the World

Find out how other countries enjoy everyone’s favourite frozen dairy treat.

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Hokey Pokey Ice Cream is a New Zealand ice cream tradition
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New Zealand: Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

While you reveal a lot about yourself when you order ice cream, ordering this New Zealand favourite probably means you’re fun. Krista Canfield McNish, founder of FoodWaterShoes, an international food site, says that the blend of Hokey Pokey ice cream can vary across New Zealand, depending on which shop you visit, but mostly it means plain vanilla ice cream mixed with generous heaps of honeycomb toffee. The outcome is a super rich, creamy ice cream—and it’s delicious, says McNish. It’s popular throughout the North and South islands of New Zealand and even available at grocery stores, with a leading brand called Tip Top’s Hokey Pokey.

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Japanese mochi
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Japan: Mochi

Available in nearly every city across Japan, you might mistake these small circular rounds of ice cream for macaroons at first glance. Ice cream is shaped into bite-size circles and pounded rice paste is wrapped around to keep it from melting. Coming in at just 100 calories a pop, you’ll need to sample at least a handful of mochi before heading toward more sightseeing (and more mochi).

Don’t miss this indispensable guide for Canadians travelling to Japan for the first time.

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Spaghettini ice cream dessert
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Germany: Spaghettini

Nope, this ice cream tradition isn’t from Italy, even though it looks like it. Instead, this is a dish you can order throughout Germany. Pastry chefs work to make an ice cream sundae mimic a traditional bowl of spaghetti you can have for dessert rather than dinner. How do they pull this feat off? Vanilla ice cream stands in for noodles, strawberry puree for the marinara, and coconut flakes for the parmesan cheese.

Check out more surprising foods that will trick your taste buds.

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Spanish ice cream
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Spain: Fun-Shaped Ice Cream

Ice cream in Canada tends to be shaped by the ubiquitous ice cream scoop—the round mound we’re so familiar with. In Spain, however, they dispense with the scoop altogether. According to McNish, you can wander down a grocery aisle in any major Spanish city—from Madrid to Barcelona—and you’ll likely find Frigo, a brand of ice cream which presents the frosty treat in a variety of quirky shapes, from rocket ships to pies. For more of a gourmet experience, head to Madrid where you can visit Rocambolesc Gelateria. “They make an absolutely insane coconut and violet sorbet that you can top with a cloud of cotton candy and star shaped sprinkles. Rocambolesc even offers a cherry/strawberry flavoured arbutus bear, which is Madrid’s fuzzy mascot, shaped popsicle as well as funky popsicles flavours, like Girona apple and blood orange plus mango sorbet, in wonky shapes like noses and fingers,” she says.

Love travelling off the beaten path? Explore Europe’s most underrated cities.

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Gelato in Italian shop
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Italy: Gelato

While exploring the ancient Roman streets under the scorching sun, the very vision of a gelato stand may make your mouth begin to water. As a timeless tradition dating back to the Italian Renaissance, gelato is a popular summer day (or any day!) treat that helps you cool down. Gelato likely will remind you of traditional ice cream at first glance, but it’s actually lower in fat. You’ll find it to be a thicker consistency with richer flavours (and ahem, likely, more sugar), infused with all sorts of sweet and savoury spices and ingredients.

Planning future travel on the continent? Here are the most affordable European cities, ranked.

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Taiyaki Ice Cream in San Francisco
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San Francisco: Taiyaki Ice Cream

“Taiyaki, or fish cone ice cream, is a common sight in Japan,” says McNish, “but it’s a rarity in the U.S.” The one exception? San Francisco! “In order to create a taiyaki, pancake or waffle batter is popped it into a fish shaped mold. A dollop of sweetened red vanilla azuki bean paste is dropped in the bottom of the fish tail and then you get to put your favourite flavour of ice cream on top,” she explains.

Don’t miss our roundup of the best places to eat in San Francisco.

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Turkish dessert
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Turkey: Dondurma

One of the highlights of any trip to Turkey is a mouth-watering ice cream tradition called dondurma. Made with salep, an orchid root found locally, ice cream in Turkey is super-stretchy (like mozzarella cheese) and also very chewy (like gummies or taffy). And yet, it’s still cold. Made in a variety of flavours and served throughout the country, Turkey is the only place where you can actually nibble on this strange concoction, since orchid root is illegal to export.

Check out more destinations worth visiting for the food alone.

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Cuban ice cream
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Cuba: Mantecado

If you travel to Cuba, McNish says you’ll have plenty of tropical, mouthwatering ice cream flavours to pick from—and at bargain prices, to boot. You can stop by any ice cream parlour (or as it’s called in Cuba, ‘heladeria’) and walk away with a huge cone for under a dollar. A traditional Cuban flavour is ‘mantecado,’ which McNish explains has a custard base with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Or if you’re more into fruit, coco glace is a coconut ice cream served inside of a coconut shell.

Considering a trip to Cuba? Here’s what it’s like going off-resort in Havana.

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Thailand dessert
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Thailand: I Tim Pad

As beautiful and picturesque as beaches in Thailand are, its location means that weather is humid, sticky and hot nearly year-round. You’ll need a refresher when you’re trekking through streets and sands, so make a pit stop to try I Tim Pad. Easy to eat on the go—and a super-popular street snack—you might think you’re buying a small veggie wrap when you stumble across a stand. In Thailand, ice cream chefs don’t churn their ice cream, but instead they flash-freeze it to make a circular, thin shape that they scrape off and turn into tiny ice cream rolls. Pretty easy for a quick, sweet bite!

Check out more foods every world traveller needs to try at least once.

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Snow cream dessert
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Southern US: Snow cream

Blame it on the fact that many Americans below the Mason-Dixon line rarely see snow, but there is a timeless tradition of scooping it up to make a fun snow day desert. Being mindful of where the dog last ventured, Southerners will scoop up a bowl of snow, top it with sugar, milk and vanilla extract to make an inexpensive and easy ice cream blend. Sanitary? Maybe. Delicious? Totally, y’all.

Next, find out what your favourite ice cream flavours say about your personality.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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