Let me tell you about some of the best ice creams in the world. IMHO you’d find them in the South Kanara district of Karnataka around Mangalore (and Udipi).
India has some fabulous ice creams that have become famous locally - Jigar Thanda in Madurai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad also have some local ice creams that are hugely popular.
There are a few brands in Mangalore that are hugely popular and they seem to be from the same family - Ideal, Pabbas. And the reason for their popularity seems to be not the ice cream packs (which other local brands like Hangyo also produce well) - its because of their ice cream parlors and restaurants.
As a kid when I had visited south kanara, one of my cousins who’d started working took us to Udipi to the famous Diana restaurant and treated us to the ice cream there called ‘Gadbad’ - a label meaning trouble/ confusion. This actually was a mix of a Sundae and a trifle and contained jam, fruits, ice cream, syrup, dry fruits etc. and was one of the best ice cream sundaes I had eaten - and a great memory.
Gadbad continues to be the best seller at the Ideal/ Pabbas restaurants in Mangalore. But as I returned nearly 30 years later, they had some fabulous sundaes and combinations including Parfait and Tiramisu (without cake/ biscuits), each lipsmackingly delicious.
Here’s the thing - I really haven't eaten ice cream in the other celebrated places in India, but I don't think they make such amazing ice cream sundaes, or have restaurants.
I think this can be best explained by comparing them to another great Ice cream that can claim its origins from Mangalore. Its the Natural brand of ice creams that were launched in Mumbai nearly 3 decades ago at the Juhu scheme. Its become a hugely successful franchise and is now available in quite a few cities in India. The founder of Naturals is from Mangalore and the recipe is plain and simple as their ads talk about - their ice cream is simply “milk + Fruits + sugar” - no color, flavourings, preservatives (or eggs) added.
They too have several outlets in Mumbai, Bangalore etc. but the difference is that they are self-service and only serve ice creams in cups and cones, and don't serve Sundaes. And that gives the Ideal/ Pabbas restaurants an unbeatable advantage. (Naturals does make an exception at times, and they give their version of ‘Strawberries and cream’ briefly during the rains in Mumbai).
But its not just the Sundaes, I personally love their ice creams - especially their recent premium range far much more than the other brands I have tried.
I need to admit that most of their flavors are sweeter than International brands and more robust than the subtle palate that International ice creams (like Sorbets, gelato etc.) cater to. But most Indians would love the Ideal brand of ice creams as it caters to us, and I think most folks in the world would love these ice creams too.
But Ideal has gone beyond the other brands in India (Vadilal, Walls etc.) - by creating some fabulous flavor combinations that are uniquely catering to the Indian palate and they are simply fabulous. These are combinations of dry fruits, festive flavors, popular fruits etc which they seem to have got just about perfect as they taste absolutely heavenly. These are packs you can take home and they taste as good as the Sundaes made at the parlors of Ideal - absolutely fabulous.
If you’ve travelled abroad a lot you might find the attempts to replicate international recipes very tacky, but that would be an isolated opinion because the locals absolutely loved what Ideal did as the success of their parlous is testimony to it. They tried their very best to bring in Sundaes, Trifles, parfaits, mocktails to India without any of the Hersheys, Whippng creams or the technology available here. Also remember power cuts and limited supply of electricity was a part of our lives till about a decade back when inverters became available more regularly. Karnataka had notorious 12 hour blackouts in most places, during Summer. Given this background its amazing that Ideal managed to pull it off.
Tasting these ice creams after 30 years I did find them a lot more sweeter than other ice creams, but they seem to be compensated by the robust flavors and ingredients as their ice creams do have a lot more chunks of dry fruits. An advantage that Ideal/ Pabbas have over Naturals is also the fact that they flavor their ice creams. Now I have been eating Naturals for quite some time both in Mumbai as well as in Bangalore and now in Mangalore but consistency is not their virtue. In Mumbai I tried some of their flavors but finally stuck on to only one which I found to be reliably right each time. Naturals has some great flavours - Chikoo, Sitaphal, tender coconut etc. - but they tend to be both seasonal as well as change in consistency depending on which parlous or store you order them from. (In Bangalore and Mumbai some places faced surprise power shortages especially during rains. and I think that might have impacted them, but I don't know).
I also tried Swensens in India, as well as Walls Kiosks and then there’s Haagen Dazs - they all make their Sundaes. But I don't think they hold a candle to Ideal/ Pabbas. While each of these brands make their own special ice creams and offer a different experience at their outlets - when it comes to taste as well as the total experience Ideal/ Pabbas offers this at a great deal far better than these brands do. (I do love Swensens and Walls and they gave me relief at different points in my life). And then the more subtler, premium experiences have their own place (Gelatos, sorbets, premium organic flavoured ice creams etc.).
But give me the Ideal/ Pabbas ice creams any day - And I think I can safely say they are the best ice cream experiences in the world.
But to enjoy them, you need to come all the way to Mangalore… :-)))