Considering Israeli weather, it’s no surprise that this is a country that takes its ice cream very seriously. Ice cream may not be a traditional Israeli dessert, but every summer more and more ice cream shops pop up all around the country–some independent, others part of chains–and each year, in order to entice new customers, they add stranger and more imaginative flavors to their menus. Some prove to be favorites, others serve mainly for novelty purposes and disappear at the end of the season.
The examples are endless. Allora, located on Marmorek Street in Tel Aviv, opposite Habima square, specializes in Italian-style gelato as well as refreshing sorbets. Among Allora’s new sorbet flavors for summer 2013 are red raspberry and rose-water, and one mixing two popular Israeli summer-drinks: arak and limonana. These new flavors join older but no less strange offerings like tomato sorbet with basil, avocado sorbet (with or without wasabi), and chocolate ice cream with chili peppers.
Capitolina, which has three branches in operation plus two more on the way, serves flavors like baharat, white chocolate with black pepper, and something called ‘white coffee’—made out of Yemenite coffee and ground green coffee bean-peel with Hawaij. They also offer quince sorbet with arak.
One of Israel’s most highly-regarded boutique ice cream parlor chains is Vaniglia. At their 13 branches, Vaniglia offers wacky flavors like popcorn, oak tree, vanilla pods and olive-oil, 10 spices, and a flavor known as “masculine ice cream,” which combines what are apparently four very manly flavors: licorice, malt, rum and tobacco.
This summer Vaniglia has a new line of sorbets, straying far from the usual mango or lemon into the realms of the exotic, with all-natural flavors like monkey-orange–an African fruit that grows in an experimental orchard in the Sharon area and tastes like a combination of orange, banana, cloves, and white flowers; Surinam Cherry, a South-American tropical fruit known in Hebrew as Pitango; and Santa Rosa plum, an especially rich and fragrant type of plum.
If Vaniglia is opting for the exotic, Shaked espresso-bar and boutique ice cream parlor is turning to elements of local cuisine for their ice cream flavors. “We decided to welcome the tourists with unique Israeli flavors,” owners Oren Nissim and Meny Shaked explain. The shop, located in the port of Tel Aviv, clearly caters to tourists searching for flavors they can’t find at home, and they’ll be delighted to find tahini ice cream with sugar-glazed chick-peas—what hummus is made of.
Popular Mediterranean dishes turn into ice cream flavors in Shaked’s kitchen, no matter whether the original dish is sweet or savory. Turning desserts such as malabi and kanafeh into ice cream isn’t that surprising, but you’ll also find labneh—a popular savory mezze made out of strained yogurt—which in ice cream form is still made with olive-oil and Za’atar.
The popular combination of watermelon and feta-cheese, usually served on Israeli verandas on hot summer afternoons, has gotten the ice cream flavor treatment as well. And for locals used to enjoying beer and Pitsuchim (pumpkin, watermelon or sunflower seeds, that are cracked open with the teeth and eaten as a snack) when watching soccer or basketball on TV, there’s a Shaked ice cream flavor for that now, too
While clearly not how these dishes were originally intended to be consumed, Shaked certainly gives ice cream lovers a taste of the Levant.