The World's Best Street Food - Gelato (Italy)

Global travel authority Lonely Planet presents an inspirational and informative new guide to The World’s Best Street Food.

GELATO - Italy

It’s love at first lick – there’s that tingly frisson of excitement shooting down your spine and fi reworks seem to explode in the air around you. This, you think, is what bliss is supposed to taste like.

What is it?

At its most basic, gelato is a frozen egg custard, flavoured with every ingredient you can imagine, from amaretto to zabaglione, and served piled high in a long glass, crammed into cones or wedged between wafers. Italian gelato does not traditionally
contain cream – it should be made with milk and either egg or cornflour – and is generally lower in fat. Although the overwhelming percentage of gelati in Italy are made from pre-made commercial mixes, you can, with a bit of perseverance, find the real homemade stuff.


Some say Marco Polo rediscovered a predecessor to the iced dessert during his travels along the Silk Road and introduced it back to Italy upon his return. Other say Catherine de Medici took her knowledge of gelato to France, when she married Henri Duc d’Orléans. Oh, and King Charles I was so obsessed with the stuff he had his own ‘Royal Ice Cream Maker’, a man who, once retired, was paid a handsome pension to keep the secret from those greedy commoners. Wonderful stories all, but utterly without evidence to back them up.


This is the taste of childhood that keeps on giving. But forget all those dreary modern imitators, largely ‘air and fakery’ in the words of Jane Grigson. For the true gelato experience, you want your custard fresh, flavoured with fruit purees made in the early hours of that morning. A proper gelateria delights the eyes as much as it does the taste buds. Like an edible artist’s palate, dozens of narrow steel containers vie for your attention. There’s chocolate of the darkest hue, a bright green pistachio that dances across the tongue. You go for a scoop of delicate strawberry, and then another of almond and finally cassata Siciliana. The texture is delicate and beautifully balanced, the flavours exploding around the mouth. It’s neither over sweet or crushingly heavy. Just frozen delight, right down to the final lick.

Finding It

Gelateria Alberto Pico, on Via della Seggiola in Rome, is the real thing. The custard is made fresh each day and the flavours are all natural – gelato as it used to be. It costs between €1 and €3 per scoop (AUD $1.25 and AUD $3.75).


Down south, especially in Sicily, you’ll find all manner of granitas, which are similar to sorbet except that the ice crystals are larger and flow more freely. Around Sorrento, don’t miss the ones made with the local lemons, while a coffee granita stuffed into a rich brioche bun is the most beguiling of Sicilian breakfasts.

RECIPE: Gelato

This is your basic custard-cream gelato recipe, from which you can create your own delicious flavours – think seasonal fruit, nuts, chocolate, coffee... You will get smoother results if you have an ice-cream maker, but making it by hand is just as good.

You’ll Need

12 egg yolks, beaten
1½ cups sugar
6 cups milk
1 tbs grated orange or lemon peel


Place egg yolks, sugar and 3 cups of milk in a large saucepan and whisk over a low heat, making sure not to cook the egg yolks. The mixture is ready when it sticks to the whisk. Take it off the heat, whisk through the rest of the milk and the peel. Cover and chill overnight before transferring to your ice-cream maker to do the rest of the work.

If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, place a deep, durable baking dish in your freezer. When you’ve taken the mix off the heat and stirred through the remaining milk and peel, chill the mix over an ice bath before transferring to the chilled baking dish and into the freezer. Check the mixture every 30 minutes – when it starts to freeze around the edges, stir the frozen parts into the rest. Continue this process over the next two to three hours. The key is to avoid icy crystals so whisking it at regular intervals will ensure you get a smooth, and not frosty, result.

by Tom Parker Bowles

Read all about Bamboo Rice from the book here!

This is an extract from The World’s Best Street Food by Tom Parker Bowles,et al. © Lonely Planet 2012. Available now from all good bookstores.RRP: $29.99,

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