Thursday, March 26, 2015

Local Flavors: Red Bean and Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream

In response to a post about milk ice cream, wallaby78 commented:
Beats the green/red bean ice cream, but not by much. Haikou has a Baskin Robbins and I loved it at first but last time the pralines and cream was so badly freezer burned that I won't be back any time soon.
A Baskin-Robbins previously opened near where I once lived in Shanghai. I never noticed many customers anytime I walked by, and it eventually closed. I assume I have tried their ice cream at their other, presumably more successful, stores in China, but I don't have any specific memories.

I do remember eating green bean and red been ice cream numerous times though. I enjoy both flavors, though there is a great range in quality. One recent source I saw was unexpected: McDonald's.

sign for McDonald's Red Bean Ice Cream

The above sign was at a small McDonald's outlet inside Chongqing's Niujiaotuo metro station. Unlike some other cities, eating food doesn't appear to be forbidden inside Chongqing's stations. This McDonald's is conveniently located in the path of passengers changing between two metro lines which intersect at Niujiaotuo.

Since red bean is commonly used in deserts or pastries in China, the ice cream represents another way McDonald's has localized its menu. Not only did I enjoy it far more than McDonald's Year of Fortune and Year of Luck Burgers, I ordered it on a number of occasions. It was a great way to follow up one of Chongqing's famous spicy & numbing meals, and for 5 RMB (about U.S. $0.80) it's a reasonable deal. Although the ice cream has a distinct red bean flavor, I wasn't able to detect a noticeable flavor in the cone. A McDonald's employee explained that was because there was no added flavor, just food dye to make it green.

The red bean ice cream was a temporary offering which recently ended while I was in Zhongshan. Fortunately, it was replaced with another localized ice cream flavor I enjoy: black sesame seed.

sign for McDonald's Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream

Like red bean, black sesame seed can be found in a number of desserts and pastries. And McDonald's wasn't the first place I have had black sesame seed ice cream. One of my favorites was at Very Thai Noodles in Taipei last year.

young woman preparing a Black Sesame Seed ice cream cone.

They named it the "black volcano". My recollection is that it tasted better than the McDonald's version but had a higher price. Of all the new flavors of ice cream I have tried in Asia which are not common in the U.S., black sesame seed is probably my favorite. So I heartily recommend trying a black volcano.

There are other flavors of ice cream more common in Asia than in the U.S. Someday I will write an ode or a post about the fruit which is another favorite flavor of mine — durian.

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