Ever since I was much younger, I have always enjoyed ice cream. As a kid, it was the reward that I used to earnestly look forward to after being forced to sit still for an hour during mass. In Mexico, where I spent the first fifteen years of my life, there is an ubiquitous amount of street vendors. In my hometown, Celaya, Guanajuato, old Spanish architecture prevails. Our “downtown” area is not a set of tall skyscrapers like you would find in Los Angeles, or NYC. Instead, streets are adorned with quintessential rustic style brick paving, which can only be complimented by the colonial era churches that inevitably remain afoot, proudly having survived the entirety of the Spanish colonization, and the subsequent revolution that gave birth to Mexico. Our central parks, in provinces like mine, are usually referred to as “Alamedas”. These are typically square shaped parks, with much of the same rustic paving laden throughout. Around them, you often find giant mortar buildings, perfectly surrounding the Alameda with Moorish style archways.
All of these are the images that are engraved in my nostalgic memory every time I eat home made ice cream, or should I say, “fresh” ice cream. You see, within those majestic archways surrounding the Alameda, you will find a beautiful variety of local businesses. Neverias (ice cream shops), torta stands (Mexican sandwiches), parisinas (fabric stores), zapaterias (shoe stores), among others. The Neverias, however, are nothing like the typical American chain. These are usually locally owned businesses that locally and manually make their own ice cream every day. The freshness and tartness of the fruit can be tasted exquisitely within each bite. This is an experience that is rare in the states, and it is an experience that I had not had since the last time I went to Mexico. That is, until recently.
This brings me to the recent find I had in Houston. Dulcia Handcrafted Ice Cream. The shop is inconspicuous, placed in between a series of asian owned businesses in what I can only refer to as a predominantly asian strip mall. You will find ramen shops, Bobba tea, and the like. This one business has been there for a while, and it took me a whole two years since I moved to this area to actually be curious enough to go in. You see, when I read the word “handcrafted”, I merely thought they were trying to market to an expensive niche. Something along the lines of what you think of when you hear the word organic. Nevertheless, I finally went in. Here is what I found.
Inside, you will not be greeted by your typical glass showcase, behind which ice cream canisters of various flavors would be inside a freezer. Instead, you find a giant marble counter, with some whisks, mixers, and the like sitting atop. Next to it, you will see… a giant Nitrogen tank?! I was certainly not expecting that. We were greeted by the owners, a nice older asian couple. They were immediately interested in knowing if we had been there before. That is the classic sign a food establishment gives when the experience is different from what most are used to. Upon discovering it was our first time, they handed us a menu and proceeded to explain. The menu had various preconceive concoctions, things like strawberry and banana, or chocolate with vanilla. They would usually have your choice of toppings like fresh nuts, almonds, and the like. They explained that, we could pick any ingredients we wanted, and that they would make the ice cream from scratch in front of us. They continued to explain that, all ingredients were 100% fresh, and that if I could not make my mind up, the menu was there to try something already tried and tested. I proceeded to choose strawberry and banana with almonds. What followed was magic.
They started with a metal bowl, where they started gathering the ingredients. Fresh strawberries, fresh bananas, almonds, and some form of heavy whipped cream all went into the mix. Not entirely sure what else. They proceeded to whisk everything until the ingredients became bits and pieces instead of slices. Then, they moved the metal bowl over to a water faucet looking metal dispenser, which was noticeably frozen throughout. Upon further inspection, I realized this metal faucet lead to the giant Nitrogen tank. Slowly, they opened a valve as the metal bowl containing my ingredients rested right below the metal faucet. Then. the liquid nitrogen started to dispense rapidly right onto the ingredients, instantly turning into white clouds of gas. As this continued, they continued to whisk away the ingredients in the midst of the dispensing nitrogen until the concoction gained the texture of ice cream. Mere seconds later, it was done. Fresh as it can be ice cream was now in my hands.
I gotta say, I was quite excited at the thought. It was sort of like a meal with a show, kind of like you get with hibachi grills. I could not contain myself very long, and I promptly digged in. Home. It tasted like home. Celaya’s Alameda and its Neveria within the Moorish archways were suddenly in my mind. Fresh, tart, distinguishable pieces of fruit were present throughout the ice cream. However, the flavor of the fruit was also perfectly contained within each bite of the ice cream itself.
I would be lying if I told you I have any idea how they make the ice cream in Mexico, but this Nitrogen ice cream experience is certainly the closest thing I have ever had to home in my entire 17 years in the United States. If you were to ask me which is better, I would tell you that while the freshness is the same, the flavor is different and special in its own way. Nevertheless, I highly suggest you try this place out, specially if you are familiar with the unique taste and freshness you can otherwise only find at Mexican Neverias.
Here’s a video of the process:
For those interested in this place, please google Dulcia Handcrafted Ice Cream. It is located in Houston, TX.