Instagram food trends come and go rapidly in today’s fast-paced world, but one has stuck around for a couple years — Thai rolled ice cream. The Thai street food trend spread to the United States in 2015 and eventually around the world.
Okashi (820 W. Belmont Ave.) is the newest shop to offer the treat in Chicago. It opened in March in the Lakeview neighborhood, and its menu includes unique ice cream and gelato flavors such as s’mores, green tea and avocado. Customers can get the dessert in a one-size cup for $6.75, or in a homemade waffle cone for $7.
The shop’s owner and manager, Yan Song, said the inspiration for Okashi came from a visit to New York last year.
“I saw so many rolled ice cream places [in New York] and I saw people lining up for blocks just waiting for the rolled ice cream,” Song, 32, said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really cool concept. I have to get an ice cream place like this.’”
Song, who’s originally from China but has lived in Chicago for 10 years, said she chose the small Lakeview corner shop almost immediately after seeing it.
“A lot of our customers are from this neighborhood … or they take the train, because this is close to the [Belmont CTA] train station, so it’s convenient,” Song said. “I saw this spot, and I saw so much foot traffic [nearby], so I didn’t hesitate at all.”
There’s no question Okashi is in a good location. While the shop itself is a bit tiny, the fact that it’s a little more than a block east of the high-traffic Belmont Red, Brown and Purple Line stop is a plus. It’s also near apartment buildings and other Asian restaurants, making it the perfect place to stop for dessert after having a dish somewhere else.
Rolling ice cream is a deceptively simple art that requires an expensive class to master, according to Song. First, a mix of whole milk, cream and sugar is poured onto a machine with a flat metal surface kept at a sub-zero temperature. Next, the flavored elements — whether they’re flavor syrups or fresh ingredients such as chopped strawberries or chunks of avocado — are added to the mix. As the mixture begins to blend and harden, it’s spread over the chilled surface into a thin layer. Finally, a scraper is used to roll the now-frozen sheet of ice cream into the familiar tasty spirals seen on Instagram. The result is a substantial serving of ice cream, and the whole process takes about two to three minutes, according to Song.
Okashi prides itself on its use of fresh ingredients to flavor its ice cream, and customers can certainly taste the difference — particularly with the avocado ice cream. It’s humorous to watch chunks of green avocado be mixed into ice cream, but one taste makes it worth it. The familiar buttery flavor of the avocado blends well with the creaminess of the ice cream, making it taste like a flavor that should be offered everywhere. Customers can choose from a variety of toppings at Okashi, but topping the avocado ice cream with chopped strawberries and sprinkles in a waffle cone tasted like the perfect mix.
Song said the feedback for Okashi has been positive since it opened, even if business slows down during colder weather. She said the shop already has regulars.
“There’s a little girl, she’s been here like seven or eight times in a month,” Song said. “I see her all the time. Every time she comes here, she always gets the strawberry nutella flavor.”
Okashi is Song’s first ice cream shop, but she said she doesn’t plan on keeping it that way. She’s already developing a new menu item she’s seen at other rolled ice cream shops: ice cream tacos. Song said she plans on dyeing waffle cone dough with food coloring and creating taco shells in which the rolls of ice cream will be meticulously placed.
“My goal is to be a franchise in a couple of years,” she said. “Right now, I’m working very hard to set up my own business model. I want to do my specialties and make special flavors — right now, I’m working on the ice cream tacos.”
For students looking for a unique, delicious treat as the weather warms up toward the end of the school year, Okashi is a perfect destination.
Okashi is open 2-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and noon-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday.