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10 Fascinating Ice Cream Traditions Around the World

Find out how other countries enjoy everyone's favorite frozen dairy treat.

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New Zealand: Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

While you reveal a lot about yourself when you order ice cream, you mostly say that you love fun when ordering New Zealand favorite, Hokey Pokey. Krista Canfield McNish, founder of FoodWaterShoes, an international food site, says that the blend can vary, depending on which shop you visit, but mostly it means plain vanilla ice cream mixed with generous heaps of honeycomb toffee. The outcome is a super rich, creamy ice cream—and it’s delicious, says McNish. It’s popular throughout the North and South islands of New Zealand and even available at grocery stores, with a leading brand called Tip Top’s Hokey Pokey. Find out the best ice-cream shop in every American state.

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Japan: Mochi

As long as you’re not hung up on texture, you probably will love giving mochi ice cream a swirl when you visit Japan. Available in nearly every city—small and large—you might mistake these small circular rounds of ice cream as macaroons at first glance. Ice cream is shaped into bite-size circles and pounded rice paste is wrapped around to keep it from melting. Coming in at just around 100 calories a pop, you probably will want to try at least a handful before heading toward more sightseeing. Or, if you can’t make it to Japan, mochi has made it’s way to the United States with brands like My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream available in many nationwide grocery stores.

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Nope, this ice cream tradition isn’t from Italy, even though it looks like it. Instead, this is a dish you can order throughout Germany. Pastry chefs work to make an ice cream sundae mimic a traditional bowl of spaghetti you can have for dessert rather than dinner. How do they pull this feat off? Vanilla ice cream stands in for noodles, strawberry puree for the marinara, and coconut flakes for the parmesan cheese. And while this wacky dish was created on purpose, you won’t want to miss the 13 foods that were created on accident.

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Spain: Fun-Shaped Ice Cream

Ice cream in the States tends to be shaped by the ubiquitous ice cream scoop—the round mound we’re so familiar with. While an ice cream scoop can be put to many other creative uses in the kitchen, in Spain they dispense with it altogether. According to McNish, you can wander down a grocery aisle in any major Spanish city—from Madrid to Barcelona—and you’ll likely find Frigo, a brand of ice cream which presents the favorite in a variety of quirky shapes, from rocket ships to pies. For more of a gourmet experience, head to Madrid where you can visit Rocambolesc Gelateria. “They make an absolutely insane coconut and violet sorbet that you can top with a cloud of cotton candy and star shaped sprinkles. Rocambolesc even offers a cherry strawberry flavored arbutus bear, which is Madrid’s fuzzy mascot, shaped popsicle as well as funky popsicles flavors, like Girona apple and blood orange plus mango sorbet, in wonky shapes like noses and fingers,” she says. Here’s what your favorite ice-cream flavor says about your personality.

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Italy: Gelato

While exploring the ancient Roman streets in scorching-hot heat, the very vision of a gelato stand may make your mouth begin to water. As a timeless tradition dating back to the Italian Renaissance, gelato is a popular summer day (or any day!) treat that helps you cool down from the sunshine. Gelato likely will remind you of traditional ice cream at first glance, but it’s actually lower in fat. You’ll find it to be a thicker consistency with richer flavors (and ahem, likely, more sugar), infused with all sorts of sweet and savory spices and ingredients.

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San Francisco, United States: Taiyaki Ice Cream

Okay, this is domestic, but it’s very unusual: You can find a tradition of Taiyaki fish cone ice cream here. “Taiyaki, or fish cone ice cream, is a common sight in Japan,” says McNish, “but it’s a rarity in the U.S. In order to create a taiyaki, pancake or waffle batter is popped it into a fish shaped mold. A dollop of sweetened red vanilla azuki bean paste is dropped in the bottom of the fish tail and then you get to put your favorite flavor of ice cream on top,” she explains.

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Turkey: Dondurma

Visiting Turkey is definitely going to be an added bucket list destination when you feast your eyes on their mind-boggling ice cream tradition. Made with salep, an orchid root found locally, ice cream in Turkey is super-stretchy (like mozzarella cheese) and also very chewy (like gummies or taffy). And yet, it’s still cold. Made in a variety of flavors and served throughout the country, Turkey is the only place where you can actually nibble on this strange concoction, since orchid root is illegal to export.

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Cuba: Mantecado

If you can make it to Cuba before the border closes again, McNish says you’ll have plenty of tropical, mouthwatering ice cream flavors to pick from—and for cheap. While the U.S. dollar is on par with the CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), most locals utilize a second currency called CUP (or Cuban pesos), which are worth about 1/24th of what a CUC note’s value. This means you can stop by any ice cream parlor (or as it’s called in Cuba, ‘heladeria’) and walk away with a huge cone for around eight cents. A traditional Cuban flavor is ‘mantecado,’ which McNish explains has a custard base with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Or if you’re more into fruit, coco glace is a coconut ice cream served inside of a coconut shell. Learn the 50 secrets food manufacturers won’t tell you.

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Thailand: I Tim Pad

As beautiful and picturesque as beaches in Thailand are, its location means that weather is humid, sticky and hot nearly year-round. You’ll need a refresher when you’re trekking through streets and sands, so make a pit stop to try ‘I Tim Pad.’ Easy to eat on the go—and a super-popular street snack—you might think you’re buying a small veggie wrap when you stumble across a stand. In Thailand, ice cream chefs don’t churn their ice cream, but instead they flash-freeze it to make a circular, thin shape that they scrape off and turn into tiny ice cream rolls. Pretty easy for a quick, sweet bite!

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Southern US: Snow cream

Blame it on the fact that many Americans below the Mason-Dixon line rarely see snow, but there is a timeless tradition of scooping it up to make a fun snow day desert. Being mindful of where the dog last ventured, Southerners will scoop up a bowl of snow, top it with sugar, milk and vanilla extract to make an inexpensive and easy ice cream blend. Sanitary? Kind of. Delicious? Totally, y’all. Now learn the birthplaces of 20 favorite food and drinks.

Lindsay Tigar
Lindsay Aurora Tigar is an experienced digital editor and blogger in NYC. Her blog, Confessions of a Love Addict, has a large following around the world, and a book project based on the blog is under development. The New York Post named her New York City's most eligible single in January 2014. She was also selected as one of New York's most desirable singles by the lifestyle dating website Rachel & Chris and has partnered with several popular dating blogs to create viral content. She is part of the HerCampus Blogger Network and spoke at their summer conference on "How to Be a Powerhouse Blogger." She's a social media and digital media guru with large followings on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. She freelances for several sites, including Shape.com, eHarmony.com, AskMen.com, Engagement 101 and more. She's also the resident dater for Women'sHealthMag.com, writing weekly about her dating adventures in her "Dater Diary" column.