Yes. Ice cream can be healthy! Not what you have experienced so far? Then you have never tried artisanal gelato from Ralf’s.
Ralf’s Artisan Gelato is a shop located in Ho Chi Minh City. It produces the Italian variant of ice cream: gelato.
What is “artisanal gelato?”
Exotic ice creams
There are many types of ice cream worldwide. You can differentiate:
- North American ice cream
- Turkish ice cream (Dondurma)
- Indian ice cream (Kulfi)
- Korean ice cream (Bingsu)
- And plenty of others
The Italians call their ice cream “gelato.” They can make it from semi-finished products, as is the case for most ice creams on the market nowadays. Yet, “artisanal gelato” comes from high-quality, fresh and healthy ingredients. You won’t find two artisans producing the same gelato. Each recipe is unique. They might be similar in some ways, but each variety bears the signature of its maker.
Hence, it means that if two ice creams or gelatos taste exactly the same, they are either industrial or produced from semi-finished products. Two identical ice creams can’t be artisanal and made from natural ingredients.
Artisanal Italian gelato
To sum-up, characteristics of artisanal gelato are:
- Handmade with unique recipes
- Daily fresh and produced in small quantities
- Contains only high quality raw materials and ingredients selected by the maker
- Less air overrun (around 20% for artisanal gelato vs +100% for industrialized ice cream)
- Reduced sugar (14 to 22% for artisanal gelato vs 22 to 27% for industrialized ice cream)
- Lower fat content (3 to 7% for artisanal gelato vs 18 to 25% for industrialized ice cream)
- No preservatives, aromas or coloring
Ralf’s Artisan Gelato is a member of the Gelatieri per il Gelato association, the only one in Asia to this point.
Now that you understand the difference, let’s call this pure and natural product gelato. Let’s forget about ice cream, which is mostly air!
Ralf’s passion for gelato
Gelato is wonderful
The maker behind Ralf’s had a real passion for gelato since his childhood. But he didn’t open his shop before reaching his 50s. Before that, Ralf Ehresmann was a successful PR consultant in luxury goods. Why such a career change? In his words: “I love to see people’s happy faces after eating my gelato.”
So, in 2010, Ralf took over a gelateria near Munich, Germany. Six years later, he opened Ralf’s in Ho Chi Minh City with his wife Tram. That started their artisanal adventure in Vietnam! To create his signature daily fresh products, Ralf carefully selects raw materials and natural ingredients of top quality. This family-run business combines skill and heart to deliver the best treats in town.
Unique and never-ending process
Ralf humbly recognizes he is still learning when he crafts his products. Artisanal gelato requires precision. You must ensure the ingredients are pure, and there are lots of tests needed to find the exact recipe that works together. Ralf received professional training from the best ice cream schools in Germany and Italy. But his knowledge is continuously improving with experiments. You can tell, when you see his laboratory where he produces his delicious cold treat!
The development of new varieties often happens by chance. When Ralf reads, sees, eats or drinks something, he asks himself: “Can I make a gelato out of it?” Sometimes, his clients propose flavors they have tasted somewhere else. Ralf is open to any ideas. Then he experiments in his laboratory. And offers this innovation to customers if it works.
Check out the menu!
What is NOT on the menu
Have you noticed the flavors available from most ice cream vendors?
When you see varieties such as Smurf, bubble gum, Snickers or taro, it means they are not artisanal. The maker uses semi-finished products, and not raw ingredients. It’s impossible to produce those flavors from natural ingredients. So, learn the difference!
Furthermore, we recommend you to pay attention to the number of varieties available. Handmade products from healthy ingredients have a short shelf life. A vendor displaying 20+ flavors in his ice cream cabinets is a vendor who certainly assembles semi-finished products by adding colorants, preservatives and other stabilizers.
Delicious artisanal gelato
At Ralf’s, the flavors often change because it all depends on the raw ingredients (and on sales of course!). The gelato cannot stay for more than four days in the cabinet. And there is no way of producing 4,000 liters of ice cream per hour like in industrial plants. Don’t ask Ralf to supply your restaurant or hotel with his gelato: it’s almost impossible without affecting the quality.
You can find classics such as vanilla, coconut, chocolate or strawberry. But since the recipe is unique, those classics won’t taste the same as at other vendors. For example, vanilla is not artificial, it comes from real vanilla of Mexico or Madagascar. Ralf purchases cocoa powder from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Vietnam. Only healthy and natural foodstuff.
Best sellers and favorites
According to the shop’s sales, clients definitely have a preference for chocolate. Placing second and third are stracciatella and rum raisin. But if you ask Ralf what his personal favorites are, he will dodge your question. Since he crafts his gelato himself, all products are like his children. How could a parent prefer one child to another? Or maybe it’s his way to invite his clients to try all varieties.
Actually, Ralf does love classics, such as chocolate, hazelnut, strawberry and lemon. But his preferred Vietnamese-local flavor is the yogurt black rice (yogurt xoi nep cam). It’s a mix of natural yogurt and sticky black fermented rice, a taste that suffers no competition.
The surprising ones
Have you tried apricot sorbet? Red currant? Lemongrass? Do you prefer pistachio, mangosteen, or durian? They are all available at Ralf’s Artisan Gelato. We bet you will prefer them over the industrial ones.
Well, that’s not all. The brand became famous for an amazing initiative: the fish sauce (nuoc mam) gelato. Yes, you read right. That’s an experiment from Ralf. Locals have been talking about that since early 2017 in newspapers such as Vietnam Express. The fish sauce ingredient comes from regions of Vietnam, such as Phu Quoc island or Phan Thiet. Seems weird, right? Ralf recognizes he failed eight times before finding the right fish sauce and gelato composition. Can you imagine the smell back then?
The Vietnamese pho is also available in gelato. Another salty one. And what about the black rice (nep cam) gelato? Like Ralf says: “Most ‘handmade’ ice cream makers claim they use ‘natural’ products…but at Ralf’s Artisan Gelato, we can prove it!”
Gelato in Vietnam
Setting up the business
Obviously, Ralf’s Vietnamese wife is the first and main reason for launching the shop in Ho Chi Minh city. But not the only one. The warm climate is also favorable to gelato consumption. The ever-growing middle class demands higher quality food. There is a trend of healthy meals in this country. Besides, the rapid economic development convinced Ralf that Vietnam is a good move.
This is why he decided to share his passion with locals. In exchange for the people’s friendliness who welcomed him so nicely, Ralf offers a new product in return. Authentic artisanal gelato.
However, Ralf didn’t succeed immediately. First of all, it was extremely difficult to find the proper equipment to produce artisanal products. After all, the concept is not anchored into Asian countries. Ralf had to consider huge and complex investments to set up his dedicated laboratory. He doesn’t make the figure confidential: 3.5 billion VND to get the shop ready (over $150,000 USD).
The second challenge was also cultural. Asian people don’t consume food the same way Europeans do. In Vietnam, they eat and share various small dishes. It’s common to see clients ordering only one scoop, and even share it sometimes! This does not work with the concept of a gelato restaurant. In Italy, clients go there because they specifically want to eat a sundae. In Vietnam, this idea is too new, so locals order small portions only. Subsequently, Ralf has adapted his business to the market. A gelato restaurant cannot work here? Let’s go for a small shop with affordable units!
Cannot go back to “ice cream”
You are free to try the fish sauce gelato or not. And don’t forget the other flavors too!
The shelves are continually rotating at Ralf’s Artisan Gelato. New varieties also come up from time to time, following the maker’s tests. All good for your health! Taste them, you may be surprised! According to Ralf, his gelato is 10% marketing and 90% product. Industrial ice cream is the other way around.
Let’s be honest. Now that you understand more about ice cream, don’t you feel it’s hard to see this industrial product the same way? Still not convinced? Give artisanal gelato a try. Once you taste it, there’s no going back.
The best way to give it a try? Visit one of its two branches:
Address #1: 39 Dang Thi Nhu, District 1, HCMC
Address #2: 17 Le Van Mien, District 2, HCMC
Phone: 0979327905 (VN) or 0961964285 (EN)
Facebook: Ralf’s Artisan Gelato
Hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, 1pm to 10pm, closed on Mondays
Price: average 65,000 VND / scoop (around 80gr)