Having grown up in the arid dry summers of Australia, the intense humidity of a NYC summer has been rather difficult to get used to. To help with the acclimatization process, summer in NYC calls for ice cream… lots of it. Every summer since we moved here, we have tracked down the best ice cream to be had. 2017 was the summer of ice cream bubble egg waffles, 2018 birthed an exponential opening of soft serve purveyors and some very oddball icecream creations, 2019 saw the growing prominence of global flavours, and 2020 was all about ice cream deliveries and the best that could be found in grocery stores while the city was home-bound (see here, here, here, and here). This year, it’s less about the ice cream, and more about the many other ways to to chill down and chill out. Without further ado, here’s a round-up of the best frozen treats you can find in NYC that is not ice cream. With one month left of summer, get out there and tell us which is your favourite!
Enclosed in ice
This is a little bit of cheating as there is a bit of icecream involved, but since it is not entirely icecream, we figured we can include it in this list. 😛 For two sizable frozen treats, look no further than:
- Dominique Ansel, Soho – Our love affair with Dominique Ansel continues — we love his cakes, his hot chocolate, his pastries, and his annual seasonal summer treat. Don’t miss the chocolate-studded wedge of watermelon enclosing a pyramidal swirl of icy watermelon sorbet. It’s a “healthy but naughty” dessert. 😛 And though we love it particularly for the fall/winter season, the “Frozen Smore” is also available year-round, and should not be missed.
- Sam’s Fried Icecream, Chinatown – Fried ice cream is a ubiquitous Chinese-American takeaway menu item, and we would wager that everyone has at least tried it before. It always bamboozles our mind how this is possible to make without the ice cream melting! Sam’s Fried Icecream made-to-order version guarantees that you will have a piping warm shell of fried golden crispy enclosing an bone-chilling ball of ice cream. We recommend the matcha green tea, simply drizzled with condensed milk.
Icy liquid sugar
During the summer months, if you were to test our blood type, it would be Type BT (aka Type Bubble Tea). Some people need a daily coffee, we need (but try to restrain ourselves from) a daily bubble tea. 😛 But aside from bubble tea, there are a range of other liquefied sugar to sip in NYC.
- Jell & Chill, East Village – One of the things that the NYC food scene does far better than Melbourne (or London) is regional Chinese cuisine. Jell & Chill’s mission is to introduce bing fen (冰粉), a jelly-based dessert from the Sichuan province in China to NYC. It is traditionally presented in a bowl, but Jell & Chill converts it into a drink form. The drinks are expensive (think $10+), but perhaps somewhat justified because they are filled with a myriad of ingredients. If you love very sweet drinks, the “Lychee Rose” is for you, with lychee ice, lychee fruit, gogi berry, and bing fen all floating in a rose water base. We love the very tart, very refreshing “Yuzu Grapefruit” more.
- Bambu, Flatiron – Being of Malaysian heritage, we love tropical fruits and flavours. Longan, pineapple, coconut, lychee, rambutan, pandan, gula melaka. Love, love, love. So you can imagine our excitement when we heard about a little place specializing in Vietnamese che drinks. It’s as close as we will get to the Malaysian icy drinks we love and remember from our childhood trips there. The colourful Number #10 – the “Bambu Favourite” – is wonderful, with scoops of red tapioca, grass jelly, cendol pandan jelly and coconut milk. The Number #1 – “Bambu Special” – is less milky, featuring orbs of longan floating in coconut water and basil seeds. There are many other che options available with jackfruit, taro, red bean and green tea, and also a selection of traditional Vietnamese ice coffees and fruit smoothies.
- Sugarcane Daddy, Chinatown – Sucking out the juice from a short wedge of sugarcane was a favourite childhood afternoon snack of ours. Even better though is when the juicing is done for you. And this is exactly what Sugarcane Daddy does. A tiny, easy to miss, spot in Chinatown adjacent to Nha Trang, Sugarcane Daddy shreds, crushes and mills the sugarcane. Syrup may be added, but we think this is superfluous and masks the clean taste of sugarcane. Go for the original, we say!
Sweet cold soups
There are many cold sweet soup spots in NYC, but here are our favourite two:
- Meet Fresh, East Village – A Taiwanese import, Meet Fresh showcases traditional East Asian flavours in its sweets soups — think, red bean, purple rice, black sesame, grass jelly, tofu fa pudding, grated peanuts, mochi. Its signature ingredient are liberal spoonfuls of chewy taro and sweet potato balls. Aside from sweet soups, Meet Fresh also offers a range of bubble milk teas, wintermelon teas, other iced drinks, tofu fa pudding (we prefer 46 Mott or Fong On), and shaved ice (we prefer Grace Street or Sweet Moment, see below).
- Mango Mango, Chinatown/East Village – If Meet Fresh is all about East Asian flavours, Mango Mango is well…all about its namesake fruit. In the Hong Kong style, the sweet soups here are lighter than at Meet Fresh, featuring countless combinations of pomelo, sago, watermelon, rice balls, and purple rice, and all with mango.
Japanese shaved ice (kakigori)
Almost every country in Asia has its own shaved ice dessert. The Japanese version — kakigori — is distinguishable by its lightness. It is more or less a snow cone, i.e. ice drizzled with syrup. For a more detailed review of NYC’s best kakigori, see here.
- Little One, Lower East Side – Little One sells monaka ice cream sandwiches and kakigori. Of the latter, there are a few flavours available, such as straberry, green tea, peach, hojicha, but we recommend the “Pineapple”, which makes for the perfect summer afternoon refreshment. The size of it however, is well… little.
Korean shaved ice (patbingsu)
Korean shaved ice – patbingsu – is a little more substantial in texture when compared to kakigori. For a more detailed review of NYC’s best patbingsu, see here.
- Grace Street, Koreatown – There’s nothing graceful about Grace Street. Rather, the large cavernous space is rocking every hour of the day. It’s a great place for a group outing, and we have had many fun times there. But don’t come here for a quiet peaceful date night. Its Bubble Tea French Toast is memorable for a diabetic-inducing kick. And its meticulously layered shaved ice is an equally vertiginous feat of sugar feasting (and yes, you can actually see each layer of ice!). There are five flavours — matcha, strawberry, mango, cookie, and “OG” — and while it may be the least photogenic of the selection, you can’t go wrong with the traditional Korean classic. Savoury and nutty-flavoured, the “OG” is grey toned from black sesame, sprinkled with crushed sesame powder, and surrounded by a moat of sliced strawberry, mochi and red bean. The ice itself is very smooth, and strangely for shaved ice, very creamy.
- Sweet Moment, Chinatown – Sweet Moment was one of the first dessert places we visited when we arrived in NYC five years ago. Along with Bibble & Sip, it is arguably, one of the long-standing Instagram darlings of the NYC dessert landscape. Although somewhat pricey at $16 a pop, we still love its tiered towers of compacted ice. The Christmas-coloured “Matcha Strawberry” is the most photogenic, but the “Mango Cheesecake” is our favourite. Topped with ice cream, studded with mochi and drizzled with syrup and condensed milk, they are both milk-based frozen ice, so they do become a bit heavy towards the end. We have never been able to finish one between two persons. Other flavours available include a black sesame, matcha, chocolate oreo, tiramisu, taro, and nutty caramel, and you can either order it as a tiered tower, or in a cup. Don’t miss the luridly-coloured coffee drinks too, in flavours of matcha, red velvet, chocolate and taro.