When faced with jet-lag and oppressive humidity in Bangkok, Jennifer Ng found solace in a few scoops of sweet corn ice cream. While planning her 30th birthday celebration, Ng, a non-drinker, chose San Francisco's Ice Cream Bar as the destination, her version of a watering hole.
It's probably safe to say that Ng has eaten more ice cream than the rest of us. She will combine that passion for ice cream with her interest in travel in the upcoming book, "The Ice Cream Travel Guide." The book will map the world's top ice cream destinations, along with recipes and stories that illustrate what this frozen confection means to cultures around the globe.
"It's a happiness business," Ng says. "It's a place where people come and leave happy. Wherever I went, it was a community-sharing experience."
The 30-year-old mobile designer from San Francisco has visited roughly 40 ice cream shops and other destinations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, Argentina, Taiwan, Canada and the Philippines.
She just raised more than $7,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund travel to New York City, Italy and Turkey to continue researching ice cream for the book, which she plans to self-publish later this year. Each city will include a map with notable ice cream stops, history and recommendations, plus recipes and stories from ice cream makers and lovers.
Obviously, Ng is a sugar addict, but she also is clever about food, says friend and journalist Eric Simons. She's been known to throw interesting food parties, such as an annual Halloween book club gathering where she usually chooses a zombie book and serves brain-themed foods.
As part of her "31 Flavors" project, Ng vowed to create 31 flavors of ice cream in the year before her 31st birthday in May (she's completed No. 30, an Asian pear-green tea sorbet and started No. 31: horchata with snickerdoodles).
Her favorites so far include strawberry candied jalapeno (a nod to San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe); goat cheese ice cream with caramelized figs and candied bacon (inspired by a Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio); and celery ice cream with rum-plumped raisins and a peanut butter swirl (modeled after the childhood combination of celery sticks, peanut butter and raisins).
"There are a billion things you can do with ice cream, but she's really good about finding different flavors of ice cream, different preparations, and different people who make it with different cultural backgrounds," Simons says. "It turns out to be intellectually interesting."
Ng will serve up ice cream trivia in the book, including the story of how William Dreyer gave an ice cream made with chocolate, nuts and marshmallows the name Rocky Road to cheer up Great Depression-era Americans. Or how Ben Coen's lost sense of smell led to Ben & Jerry's signature chunkiness as he sought additional texture.
She'll also delve into some of the cultural differences surrounding ice cream. In Buenos Aires, where gelato, or helado, is commonplace due to the flow of 19th century Italian immigrants, ice cream is enjoyed while lounging with friends and family late at night after dinner, Ng says. In the Philippines, ice cream is often picked up and consumed at home.
Ng will include in the book a map of San Francisco, which she says stands out for ingredients that are high quality, local and seasonal. Those traits are evident at places like Smitten Ice Cream, which features a seasonal flavor of the month, such as Meyer lemon gingersnap or rhubarb crisp.
Bi-Rite Creamery: Many people know this Dolores Park hotpot for its salted caramel, but Ng really loves the Dainty Gentleman Sundae, made with olive oil and sea salt, which she says adds silkiness and draws out sweetness. She also recommends balsamic strawberry ice cream when it is in season, along with Bi-Rite's seasonal popsicle.
Humphry Slocombe: Ng says this joint isn't your typical ice cream shop. You'll find Warhol-inspired art and flavors that range from the familiar to the eyebrow-raising, including banana, carrot and bacon. Ng recommends the Thai chili lime sorbet and the Harvey Milk and honey, made with honey and graham crackers.
Ice Cream Bar: This ice cream and soda fountain parlor offers lots of seating space, Ng says, making it ideal for parties. She recommends the Tropical Split (ask for a similar sundae if it's not in season) and the Hamilton, especially with basil ice cream and fresh strawberries.
Mitchell's Ice Cream: This San Francisco institution is known for exotic and tropical flavors such as avocado, ginger, horchata, jackfruit, lucuma and macapuno (coconut from the Philippines). Ng calls Mitchell's a great example of business owners adapting their offerings to the demographics of their customers.
Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous: The menu changes everyday -- and sometimes during the day -- but this Dogpatch shop always offers 10 flavors. Ng suggests asking for staff recommendations on a house-made cone. Ng admires the consistency in quality and texture, noting that here the ice cream is kept much colder than at other ice cream shops.
Smitten Ice Cream: This tiny ice cream shop located in a shipping container in Hayes Valley uses liquid nitrogen to make its ice cream on the spot. Among its offerings: two classic flavors, two seasonal scoops and vegan Popsicles.