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Top 5 cities in the world for ice-cream

24 August 2012

Sorbet, gelato, ice-cream... if it's sweet and its frozen, we're all over it. We've travelled the globe with an eye out for frozen delights and no price is too high for a cup of the quality stuff.

Here's our list of the top five cities in the world that take their ice-cream seriously. We're not just talking one great shop, or loads of chain stores, we're talking a city with a proliferation of A-grade boutique parlours, where quality ice-cream is a part of the culture, and where the locals know the difference between quality iced treats and poor imitations.

1.   Florence
The home of gelati, Italy is an obvious place to start. Which city to choose is harder. We've run with the tourist mecca of Florence, because you can scarcely turn around without bumping into a gelateria. And they know how to present. The colours are just beautiful – the rich pinks of strawberry and watermelon, the pastel green of pistachio and the range of browns from intense dark chocolate through to the pale cream of hazelnut. There's dinky little signs telling you the flavours, with helpful pictures of lemons and coffee beans for those of us who cant speak Italian.  The ice-creams are piled high, just begging you to come in and help reduce the overflow. Answer that call – the fresh fruit flavours are zingy, refreshing and intense. Delightful.

2.   Buenos Aires
When you step from the blistering heat of the street into an ice-creamery, you wont see the Italian-style colourful piles of goodness. What you see are rows of stainless steel tubs sunk into the counter, each with a lid on. The ice-cream is under wraps. They are not trying to impress you with vibrant colours and fancy studs of flavour. The quality speaks for itself.

Not only does Buenos Aires do truly great ice-cream, they do one thing better than anywhere else – quantity. We're not talking an exclusive single scoop served in a designer thimble for $20. Choosing your size is like choosing between big mug, big bowl or bucket. Choose bucket (obviously), choose your flavours, grab two spoons and your mate, and step back out in the sun. It's perfection.

3.   San Francisco
If it's vegan pandan coconut sorbet you are after, or fair-trade single-origin coffee bean ice-cream made with grass-fed organic cows milk that hasn't travelled more than 50 miles, then San Fran is your city.

There's a focus on flavours here, from the hippy (soy cardamom rose, or ube-macapuno – that's purple yam and sweet coconut) to the very specific (Madagascan vanilla, quince with nut streusel) to the downright quirky (bourbon and cornflakes, salt and pepper, pistachio bacon, or prosciutto).

In a city where the more unique your flavour, the more famous your store becomes, the competition is high. With an emphasis on quality ingredients combined with a minimum of interference, this competitive ice-cream culture adds up to a whole pile of high-end intensely-flavoured deliciousness.

4.   New York
Of course. New York City. The city with the best and the most of everything. The array is remarkable. In downtown Greenwich Village, there will be no less than six ice-creameries on a block. You'll find an Argentinian parlour, a traditional Italian, a modern Italian, a Scandinavian, a modern fro-yo joint (that's frozen yoghurt for the uninitiated) and a couple of local boutiques. Not to mention the take-home tubs sourced from the best producers in the country, bought from the beautiful gourmet delis, in a range of flavours numbering in the fifties.

New York has it all. And we've tried them all. Heaven.

5.   Tokyo
We're not entirely sure if this strictly complies with our criteria of the world's best, but it's certainly world's most fascinating and unusual. Not content to just push the flavour boundaries like San Francisco, Japan has taken the Italian concept of ice-cream and transformed into something truly Asian. How does octopus ice-cream strike you? Or ox-tongue, or lettuce and potato, or even oyster? Wasabi – yes, interesting, the balance of spicy and cold works well. Cherry Blossom – yes, sweet and floral, delicious. But chicken wing ice-cream – perhaps not.

One of Tokyo's theme parks is home to Ice Cream City, where you can buy over 300 flavours of ice-cream – for that commitment alone Tokyo deserves to be on the list.