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La Gelatiera and the Renaissance Ice Cream Men

31 Mar

The origins of ice cream can be traced back to the Tang period in China 618-907 AD where the Chinese heated buffalo, cow and goat milk along with grounded rice, allowed it to ferment and then buried it in snow. Some accounts suggest that the Chinese taught Arab traders how to combine syrups and snow, which morphed into an early version of what we now know as the sorbet and it was then the Arab traders who taught Venetians and Romans how to make this novel frozen delicacy.

It is also widely believed that the tradition of Italian gelato began during the Italian Renaissance. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer, happened to win the contest for his tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice. Other popular accounts suggest that gelato was infact invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, an Italian architect who was hired by the Medici family in 1565 to cater banquets. He created frozen desserts from a mixture of frozen sweet milk with egg yolks and other flavorings, which became widely popular but mainly among the elite.  Meanwhile, in the South, the frozen rendition was lower in fat, predominantly water-based, slightly higher in sugar content due to the intense flavourings and was called Sorbetto, known today as Sorbet.

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Let’s come back to 5 centuries later. My mother is the sort of person who will skip a meal just to be able to eat double the amount of ice cream you should typically have as one helping of dessert. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her passion for this frozen treat.

But that didn’t deter me from discovering La Gelatiera, an artisan gelateria in Covent Garden, through a Chocolate Walks deserts tasting event in February. Ever since, I have returned every week, sometimes even more frequently not just to enjoy the delectable range of inventive flavours that never cease to surprise me but also the conversations with the friendly staff and owners.

Opened by three friends; Antonio, Simona and Stephane, La Gelatiera is truly a labour of love. Antonio’s paternal grandfather was a gelato maker in Calabria, southern Italy and this new venture is his homage to the tradition of gelato-making that he fondly remembers from his childhood.

One can sense the owners’ passion and dedication towards their craft and the choice of name (which literally means the machine that churns gelato, photographed below) embodies their desire to share the gelato-making process with those who visit. You can also peak into their lab through its transparent roof to catch a glimpse of the gelato churning process.

La Gelatiera

Co-owner Antonio spent a year researching and carefully studying books on gelato-making and he describes the process as being somewhat mathematical since it involves meticulously balancing the sugar, water and fat content in each of the ingredients that is used. It’s as much chemistry as it is an art. This approach lies at the heart of artisanal gelato-making and lends La Gelatiera’s products the depth that communicates the effort and love that went into creating them. 

The owners are inspired by the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy to preserve traditional cuisine and agricultural biodiversity. La Gelatiera is committed to sustainability not only in the use of fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients but also by using reclaimed wood for the stools and small tables and using a water recycling machine. The milk is locally sourced, organically certified and pasteurized on premises.

With flavours such as black sesame, saffron, prosecco and peaches, wensleydale cheese and blackcurrant, La Gelatiera is pushing the boundaries of creative experimentation. My favourite is the salty caramel that is nearly as good as the salted butter caramel ice cream I had at Berthillon in Paris in January.  The mango gelato is also delightful especially since they clearly know that the best mango gelato can only be made with Pakistani mangoes! The flavours change on a daily basis so there may be days on which your preferred flavour is not available.

I was curious to know whether innovation in gelato flavours is also taking place in the Italian foodscape. According to Antonio, experimentation in avant-garde gelato flavours is not very common but it is taking place largely focused in the North of Italy in cities such as Milan, Florence and Bologna. Antonio draws inspiration from Japanese and French cuisine and he recently collaborated with a French chef to develop a savoury gelato flavour – Delice des Cabasses provencal goat cheese with real truffle & honey. He hopes to continue the practice of collaborating with other chefs to merge flavour profiles and influences. In addition to gelato, you can’t escape the aromas of La Gelatiera’s home-made cakes and desserts such as panettone and tartufo, which are freshly baked on premises and inspired by co-owner Simona’s family recipes from Modena.

Panettone

La Gelatiera

27 New Row

Covent Garden

WC2N 4LA, London

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Food Gallery: Cambodia

2 Mar

This post features photographs taken by my dear friend Sneh Rajbhandari showcasing the dishes she enjoyed while visiting her mother in Cambodia.

Most of us are familiar with East Asian cuisines such as Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese since they have over the years become more mainstream on the European and North American food map. I have often wondered about the ingredients, flavours and spices that comprise cuisines from Cambodia, Laos and The Philippines  and am always on the lookout for restaurants in London. The quest continues but in the meantime, here is bringing you a flavour of Cambodia:

Breakfast:

Breakfast: (Ang Sach Moan) plain rice & roast chicken with clear soup

Hai Naam

Lunch:

Prawn and Mango Salad

Dinner:

cha kadaam chea moi mirich - crab with black pepper

all demolished

When in Rome…..

22 Dec

Penna all'Arrabiata | Rome, Italy | July 2010

A Gastronomical Journey Through Lisbon

14 Nov

Portugal is perhaps Europe’s best kept secret. Not as hyped up and touristy as neighbouring Spain, it has a vintage charm that is hard to resist. Last December, my friend and travel companion Jen (who is also a blogger and great photographer!) and I decided to go on a 4-day trip to Lisbon via Madrid. We also undertook a day trip to the ancient city of Sintra, that has been described by Byron as ‘Glorious Eden.’

Prior to this trip, my conception of Portuguese cuisine was limited to Nando’s flame-grilled peri peri chicken (shameful, I know), which I was fairly certain did not ‘really’ represent Portuguese food. I was, therefore, both curious and excited to explore more of what Portugal had to offer gastronomically.
The first meal we had in Lisbon was a delicious dinner near Rossio where I ordered a caril de camarao (prawn curry) with a hint of coconut, laced with cream. Jen ordered bacalhau (baked cod with potatoes) that both looked and tasted delicious. I was rather intrigued by the idea of having curry in Portugal and wondered if this was an influence from Goa, a former Portuguese colony in South India.  The influence of Portuguese flavours and ingredients on Goan cuisine is a known fact and reflective of the export of cultural practices across colonial empires. What did strike me as interesting, although perhaps not surprising is observing and experiencing the incorporation of Goan recipes into Portuguese cuisine. Although, it remains a question whether the Portuguese brought culinary influences back with them to the home country or whether Goan immigrants to Portugal inspired the use of such recipes in restaurants and homes. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Prawn Curry - Photo Courtesy: Jen Huang

Bacalhau – Photo Courtesy: Jen Huang

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Heaven in a Serving of Mac ‘n’ Cheese

27 Sep

Macaroni au Gratin | New York | Central Park Boathouse | April 2010

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