WTF is Dirty Ice Cream?

“What is dirty ice cream? Is it actually dirty?” It’s a question we still occasionally hear from cautious visitors. We’d hoped after a year of business people would realise our food is perfectly sanitary, but it sounds like we need to set the record straight.

Dirty ice cream is a nickname for Filipino traditional ice cream, also known as sorbetes (not to be confused with a sorbet). It first appeared at the turn of the 19th century. While Western ice cream used cow’s milk, Filipinos quickly found that carabao milk was cheaper to use, which meant more people could afford to make ice cream. The ice cream was traditionally hand-churned - families would take turns churning the ice cream. We actually have a traditional ice cream maker in our Camden Town branch - it’s essentially a bucket with a hand crank. Small and tiring, but worth it for some good homemade ice cream.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of ways to make sorbetes. Carabao milk can be swapped out for coconut milk to make a vegan scoop. Of course, there’s countless favourites. Filipino favourites are ube, queso (cheese!), chocolate and mango, but seeing as anybody can make sorbetes at home, the possibilities are endless. Typically they’re served in a plastic cup, wafer or bread bun.

Where else sells ube ice cream in a bread bun? Hmm....

Where ice cream vans play that one tune (yes, that one) through the city streets, sorbetero (dirty ice cream vendors) roamed the streets with ice cream carts and rang a bell to summon hordes of children. If you’re wondering how the ice cream stayed cold in a country that regularly hits 30°C, the sorbetero found a clever workaround. They kept the goods in metal cylinders (sound familiar?) and stuffed the space between them with a mix of shaved ice and salt to keep the temperature low.

Credit to Francine Lingad

So why’s it ‘dirty’? Well, it’s usually street food, with all the implications that come with that. Some say that the name was spread by mothers trying to scare their kids away, but it didn’t stop them either way. (Side note: Our ice cream is perfectly sanitary.)

So now you know! How does Mamasons match up to the Filipino vendors? We think we do a damn good job, and so do most people, but we’ll do a comparison soon. Keep on checking in to find out!