Weird combination: Fish sauce ice cream in HCM City
Almost every dish in Vietnam contains fish sauce (or nuoc mam), outside or in. Nuoc mam is not just a dipping sauce but also an essential ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Fish sauce is made of salt, water and most important, fermented anchovies.
And an ice cream parlor in HCM City is selling a fish sauce flavored gelato that it first introduced on April 1, 2017.
A serving of the fish sauce ice cream costs VND60,000 ($2.6). Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.
"People were first skeptical, then surprised, then they bought it," says Ehresmann Ralf, who created this totally counter-intuitive ice cream.
The taste perception is fish sauce, salted caramel and cheese, he said.
HCM City is already a place where unusual ice cream flavors are not unusual.
In a place that never really gets cold, but can get very hot, ice cream is a perennial favorite. And the ice cream flavors here reflect the abundance of tropical fruits available in the country.
So it happens that you can get a scoop of durian, tamarind, jackfruit, custard apple, soursop and other flavors you can’t find elsewhere, quite easily.
A popular brand has been even selling ginger ice cream for many years now. But Ehresmann Ralf has gone further. Too far, some might say.
"Three years ago, when I opened an ice cream shop in the city, the first question came to mind was: "What flavor will impress Vietnamese people?
"After a few months, we started making fish sauce ice cream."
Initially, Ralf only made a small amount. But after receiving favorable feedback from the customers, he decided to put it on the menu.
The main ingredients are still milk and sugar. Traditional, pure fish sauce is poured directly into this to make a mixture, and placed in a freezer after letting it set for 30 minutes.
The shop makes this flavor three times a week. With 500ml of fish sauce, 12kg of ice cream is made.
Ralf manages to get his ice creams, including the fish sauce flavored one, have the silky softness of a gelato.
The strong smell of fish sauce is absent in the ice-cream. Instead, customers get a taste of cheese. The pungency doesn’t hit one until the ice cream slips down the throat.
The ice cream is served with some crushed, roasted peanuts and waffles. These two ingredients increase the fat and aroma.
"Fish sauce is a typical flavor of Vietnam. Although I have only lived in Vietnam for 3 years, my love counts more .... This is my gift for you," the German businessman said.
In addition to fish sauce, Ralfh has also tried out beef pho ice cream using the broth of pho (Vietnam's iconic noodle dish) and basic ingredients.
He feels the fish sauce ice cream works in HCM City because the Vietnamese grow with it and the taste is etched in their memory.
"But foreigners are very, very skeptical and refuse to try. If I can convince them to try a little bit, then they are mostly positively surprised."
Asked if he plans to patent his creation, he laughs.
"No, no patent. If someone else wants to make it, it's okay for me. If every Gelato maker would have patents on his/her flavours then the Gelato business would be very poor and boring!"
The ice cream maker with a penchant for strange flavors has a few more things up his sleeve.
"I have some ideas for new flavors but I think it's not yet the time to talk about it."