Ice cream, spicy? And in China? Sounds strange, isn’t just “dark cuisine.”

Especially with Sichuan pepper, there is actually great gelato to be found!

Ice cream alone is a peculiar thing to find in China – and then, influenced by local flavors, it sometimes comes in spicy flavors, with chilli crisp-like hongyou and with Sichuan pepper.

Mailisi stand, Chongqing
Mailisi stand, Chongqing

Chongqing Goes Spicy!

In Chongqing, I found a simple soft-serve ice cream on offer – in even more of the typically spicy flavors: Those kiosk-like places offered it flavored with hongyou, with Sichuan pepper, or with wasabi.

These offerings were interesting for a try.

Mailisi's spicy offerings
Mailisi’s spicy offerings

Wasabi

Wasabi, I did without. It’s usually just green-colored horse radish, anyways. And the way that these plants’ pungent aromatics waft into the nose is not something I particularly like.

Hongyou on Soft-Serve

The hongyou, “red oil,” was interesting.

It is what is better known in the West as a chilli crisp, even if more of the oil is used here.

Mailisi Hongyou Ice Cream
Mailisi Hongyou Ice Cream

Hot oil is poured over chilli to make this oil. It crisps it up and aromatizes the oil.

There is sesame in this hong you, which adds to the nuttiness that the crisped-up chilli itself already has.

It is not to be underestimated, if not extreme, in its spiciness.

The combination with the sweetness and coolness of the soft serve is quite peculiar, and rather nice – at least for a chilehead.

It is understandable that this combination featured as “dark cuisine” of a turducken-like nature – but it is not nearly as much of a dare and peculiarity alone as it has often been described as.

Sichuan Pepper on Soft-Serve

The combination of the same soft-serve with Sichuan pepper, in the same place, was a different matter.

Huajiao (Sichuan Pepper) Ice Cream from Mailisi
Huajiao (Sichuan Pepper) Ice Cream from Mailisi

Sichuan pepper’s lemony-woody aroma proved quite interesting.

The way they just sprinkled it, together with whole Sichuan pepper “corns”, over the top was not good, though.

It meant that one had to eat the soft serve, fast as it was to melt, really fast. Which meant licking lots of Sichuan pepper powder, almost gulping down the whole pieces.

All very highly *not* recommended.

Spicy Cornetto?!

In between these and the next, a colleague sent a photo of the latest ice cream flavor of a Cornetto.

The commercial, mainly – literally and metaphorically – vanilla ice cream cone that’s nearly everywhere had suddenly appeared in a spicy (xiang-la) mulberry flavor.

Aromatic-spicy black mulberry cornetto
Aromatic-spicy black mulberry cornetto

The black waffle cone, deep dark ice cream and shining red pieces on top sure were eye-catching. The flavor was somewhat recognizable as black mulberry, and there was a certain spiciness to it, to boot.

Still, it’s just one of those quick one-off things that follow some trend, are pretty artificially made, and disappear again quickly. A month later, I did not find that flavor anywhere anymore (and given its computer game hero-related packaging, it may well have been some special edition from the get-go).

Sichuan Pepper Gelato in Chengdu: M-Lab

In Chengdu, walking around its upscale Taikoo Li shopping area, I almost missed what proved the most interesting of these chill encounters.

Looking past the little, rubber duck-like yellow, stall at the edge yet another time, I finally noticed that the writing above it advertised huajiao bingjiling – Sichuan pepper ice cream.

Well then, off for a try I went.

Chengdu M-Lab Huajiao Ice Cream
Chengdu M-Lab Huajiao Ice Cream

The ice cream there was pretty expensive, but it proved of a quality that is not far behind Italian gelato.

The (green) Sichuan pepper ice cream had just three decorative “pepper corns” put on top.

In it, though, the pepper was really worked in – and it provided a numbing-tingling sensation together with the woody-lemony aroma of green Sichuan pepper that was amazingly good.

I’m happy I tried that – and happier still for what came of this inspiration…