Chilled sweet treats are a favorite way to take the edge off oppressive heat no matter what age you are, and indulging in them often becomes a summertime ritual for us all. In Japan, it’s fluffy shaved ice towers known as kakigōri. In India, it’s kulfi, a dense and intensely creamy ice cream flavored with rose, mango or cardamom. Here, we speak to five summer refreshments from some of our most beloved (and currently missed) destinations across the globe.
While traveling to Syria right now is sadly out of the question, we can’t help but pine for Éma’a, which can be found throughout the Levant but in its best incarnation on the streets of Damascus. Originating from the historic ice cream parlor Bakdash in the majestic Souk Al Hamidiya, éma’a is something akin to a mix of ice cream and taffy by way of a Middle Eastern spice and fragrance stall. Made with milk, sugar, a distinctly regional mastic, sahlab and rosewater, the mixture becomes a kind of gum as men pound it with wooden paddles in quite a dramatic display. Topped with brilliant green pistachios, it has all the look of an American sundae, but with the romance and history of the Levant.
In the morning bustle at the pasticcerie of Noto, Catania, Messina and Modica, you’ll see bowls of granita with brioche col tuppo, whipped cream, and doppio espresso (naturally). Distinct from gelato or sorbet, the coarse, crystalline texture of Sicilian granita is key—that and the purest of local ingredients, from the traditional puckery lemon to the creamy almond or pistachio or, if you happen to be on the island in that tiny window when mulberries are in season, a gelsi. The dish’s origins began on the epic heights of Mount Etna, where nevarolu, men who collected snow and ice in winter, would store their harvest in caves dotted atop the pea. Heavy work for a sweet treat, but it’s clearly worth it.
Whether agua- or leche-based, the flavor of these popsicles is all down to the ingredients packed within; fresh fruit, flower petals, herbs, nuts and spices are all fair game. Peer into the freezer of a paletas vendor and you’ll see a rainbow of colors from magenta hibiscus flower to the speckled gold and red of mango con chile to pale green avocado. The rural town of Tocumbo in the state of Michoacán is credited as the birthplace of the paleta, and its popularity birthed an industry. Now, paleterias across the country reflect local tastes.
Chilled Mango, Australia
A Bowen mango plucked from the fridge or a beachside esky (“cooler” in Aussie) is one of summer’s great pleasures in Queensland, where the midday heat is positively scorching. While some varieties develop a gentle pink or red blush as they ripen, your guide should be the feel and aroma of the fruit: You want a slight give to the flesh and a fruity perfume on the stem end. With a sharp knife, cut either side of the fruit right along the stone. Then, crosshatch the flesh inside and turn the entire piece inside out, so that each cube of mango can be readily eaten. Some, though, prefer to tackle the stone whole, slurping as they go.
Of course the Spanish find a way to be contrarian: Gazpacho is our lone savory entry.
This cold soup is said to have arrived in Andalucia on the backs of Roman soldiers, who would sustain themselves on stale bread enlivened with garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Tomatoes were added after Christopher Columbus returned from the Americas. Variations on the recipe appear throughout the region, from the addition of chopped onions in Jerez de la Frontera to crushed cumin in Granada, but what’s consistent is the need for the ripest of tomatoes. In other words, this dish is best savored in August, during the bounty of the late summer harvest.
Conor Burke is a creative director and photographer living in New York, by way of Sydney and Dublin. He oversees PRIOR’s creative, having previously run photographer and interior artist Martyn Thompson’s design studio. Before that he was the market editor at VOGUE Living and a contributing editor at GQ Australia.