Mango, purple yam, pandan, yuzu, tofu - gelatos get an Asian spin
Regional masters of the Italian iced dessert take on the world in contest to find the best flavour
Two Asian teams have qualified to compete in Italy against the world's foremost gelato artisans for the title World's Best Gelato. They'll be joined by a team from Adelaide, Australia.
The regional gelato wizards triumphed in the Asia-Pacific heat of the Gelato World Tour competition, which travels the globe to track down the most perfectly executed flavour expressions of Italy's ultimate feel-good treat.
Held over three days last month at Singapore's Marina Bay Sands resort, the contest drew 16 teams from Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. More than 50,000 gelato lovers attended.
And forget about run-of-the-mill staples such as strawberry, and chocolate and hazelnut; the competitors packed in flavours that owed as much to the South China, Andaman and Java seas as to the Mediterranean.
Singaporean Sharon Tay from the island state's Momolato gelateria booked her ticket to the European home of gelato with a full-bodied "Good Ol' Days" rendering that she created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence. An Asian sensibility, Tay says, was an essential ingredient.
"It was the formative backbone and inspiration behind the flavour," says Tay, a former banker whose career took a dramatic turn after a life-changing excursion to Florence. Her gelato was judged the region's best by a jury headed by Singaporean celebrity chef Justin Quek, as well as by a vote from the general public.
"The gelato was crafted in commemoration of Singapore's journey, with a firm respect for familiar and comforting traditional ingredients such as palm sugar, coconut milk and tofu skin," Tay says. "I wanted this flavour to weave subtly the various dimensions - sweet and savoury; hard and soft."
A three-man Australian team, from 48 Flavours gelateria in Adelaide, scooped second place with their more-ish "Roasted Walnut and Honey Crunch", while the No3 spot was awarded to "Vanilla of the East" cooked up by Kuala Lumpur's Keewin and Seow Huan Ong of Cielo Dolci gelateria.
Crucial to the Malaysians' creation was pandan - or screw palm leaf - which Keewin Ong chose for its "jasmine and sweet coconut fragrance". The aim was to create an Italian-style gelato that Asian customers could relate to. Basil seeds and gula melaka completed the offering.
"It was wonderful to see how Asia's new generation of gelato artisans have taken a centuries-old Italian tradition and made it relevant to their communities," says Gelato World Tour spokeswoman Valentina Righi.
Of the flavours presented in Singapore, most focused on local ingredients and drew upon Asian culinary heritage. Andre Soenjoto of Surabaya's De Boliva gelateria based his frozen confection on curcuma - a medicinal plant used in traditional Indonesian tonics.
Harish Doneka, of Singapore's Pick Me Up Cafe, delivered a yogurt-based "Beer with Ciambella" incorporating chunks of Italian-style doughnut and sprayed with the local Tiger brew; and Chronos Chan and Eunice Soon of Tom's Palette gelateria (also in Singapore) aimed to throw a "party in your mouth" with their zesty "Kochi Popz" gelato that was enlivened by yuzu fruit from Japan's Kochi prefecture and chocolate-coated popping candy from Turkey.
The special People's Choice award was picked up by Zarah Zaragoza-Manikan of Bono Artisanal Gelato in Manila for her eye-catching Mango Ube Symphony featuring purple yam decorated with rum-soaked strips of dried mango.
Even some Italians looked to Asia when creating their flavours: Singapore-based Marco Alfero, of Alfero Artisan Gelato, attracted queues with his "Chendol Merdeka" gelato flavoured with coconut milk, pandan juice, red beans and green jelly noodles.
"Although the process of making gelato is very much rooted in the Italian tradition, flavours reflect the artisans' thinking and respect for a particular place," says Righi.
The Tour is organised by Italy's Carpigiani Gelato University and Sigep, the top international expo for producers of high-quality gelato. The next grand final will be in the Italian city of Rimini in 2017.