Culture in a cup: gelato takes on new identities in Melbourne

Kariton Sorbetes makes gelato and frozen desserts inspired by popular Filipino dishes such as champorado.
Clockwise from ...
Kariton Sorbetes makes gelato and frozen desserts inspired by popular Filipino dishes such as champorado. Clockwise from left is the ChamTop, Pandamington, YemaBon and Ube Halaytime. Photo: Scott McNaughton

The next scoop of pale green gelato you see this summer may not be pistachio, and the creamy white stuff next to it is more likely to be coconut than vanilla. Welcome to the new gelato cabinet.

Several Melbourne businesses are taking the foundations laid by Italian gelaterias decades ago, and adding traditions from Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines and beyond. The result is a new frontier of flavour that also tells the story of Australian migration.

Beku Gelato, Kariton Sorbetes, Kulfi Bar and Cuppa Turca are leading the way, combining what they know and what Melburnians already love to create thrilling new scoops.

Kariton Sorbetes co-founder John Rivera is about to open a gelato shop in Footscray after launching a delivery business ...
Kariton Sorbetes co-founder John Rivera is about to open a gelato shop in Footscray after launching a delivery business last year. Photo: Scott McNaughton

You can get a cup of banana gelato sprinkled with the crunchy wrappers of spring rolls, coffee-flavoured kulfi (south Asia's version of ice-cream) or eye-catching ube made from purple yams.

They might not be as common as Italian gelati like hazelnut or blood orange today, but this crop of new flavours is finding broad appeal. Beku, Kariton and Cuppa Turca are all about to open new shops around Melbourne.

Harun Yalcin serving Turkish ice-cream at Cuppa Turca in Northcote.
Harun Yalcin serving Turkish ice-cream at Cuppa Turca in Northcote.  Photo: Paul Jeffers

At Kariton, the flavours are Filipino but the customer base is a 50-50 split of Aussies and those who know their kalamansi from their keso.

"I like to say to people that you probably know at least one Filipino in your life but you don't know much about their food culture," says co-founder John Rivera, himself Filipino.

Gelato can be an easier road in to unfamiliar flavours.

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Rivera founded Kariton with fellow pastry chef Minh Duong as a way to pay the bills last year in lockdown. Together, they've used their experience at fine-diners like Maha and Lume to create a business that's delivering sweet treats not seen anywhere else.

The closest flavour to chocolate you can get is champorado, based on a Filipino breakfast of rice porridge and cocoa accompanied by salted fish. Kariton's version infuses St David Dairy milk with toasted rice, adds imported Filipino chocolate and tops it with butterscotch featuring fish sauce.

"We weren't sure whether to tell people it's fish sauce at first. But they realise that all together it makes sense: that saline, funky, umami caramel with this earthy, bittersweet chocolate," says Rivera.

At Cuppa Turca, Turkey's stretchy ice-cream dondurma is sandwiched between wafers, baklava and more.
At Cuppa Turca, Turkey's stretchy ice-cream dondurma is sandwiched between wafers, baklava and more. Photo: Paul Jeffers

"Being from fine-dining, we always wanted to aim for the stars," says Rivera, who is putting the finishing touches on his and Duong's first gelato shop.

But before any new Kariton flavour goes to market, they ask Rivera's father to taste it first.

"We say: 'Has it passed the Charlie test?'" says Rivera. "He doesn't really care about the technical aspects like sugar percentage or fat percentage. He looks at it from a common person's view."

Beku Gelato in Brunswick East is one of the leaders of a new wave of gelato shops in Melbourne.
Beku Gelato in Brunswick East is one of the leaders of a new wave of gelato shops in Melbourne. Photo: Windu Kontoro

At Beku in Brunswick East, owner Agusta Triwahyu explains to her staff the origin story of each one of the 18 gelati in the cabinet so they can answer the questions that customers inevitably ask.

It's to be expected when you're offering flavours like teh tarik (sweet Malaysian tea), injeolmi (a popular Korean snack of rice cakes and roasted soy bean powder) and cendol (a textural coconut and pandan dessert popular in South-east Asia).

Kariton Sorbetes' coconut and pandan flavoured gelato topped with coconut flakes and pandan jelly.
Kariton Sorbetes' coconut and pandan flavoured gelato topped with coconut flakes and pandan jelly. Photo: Supplied

"Even if they want the chocolate, they will ask about the others for next time," says Triwahyu.

A qualified engineer, she opened Beku in 2017 after she was made redundant and wanted to work for herself. She lets her tastebuds, pop culture phenomena like Korean television and travel guide her flavours.

Harun Yalcin opened Northcote's Cuppa Turca, the only maker of Turkish ice-cream in Victoria, because he missed it so much when he arrived here in 2016.

Cones of vegan chocolate, coconut sorbet with jackfruit, and pistachio gelato at Beku, which also offers more unusual ...
Cones of vegan chocolate, coconut sorbet with jackfruit, and pistachio gelato at Beku, which also offers more unusual flavours inspired by Korean snacks. Photo: Supplied

Thick, stretchy and nearly unmeltable, the iced treat is called dondurma and it's in a league of its own when it comes to its texture and the highly specialised recipe, which relies on Turkish ingredients that can't be imported. Yalcin spent five months creating his own substitute that gives dondurma its trademark elasticity.

Despite his unique product, Yalcin is keen to compete for Melbourne's affection for gelato. He deliberately opened his store in Northcote, away from Melbourne's primary Turkish communities. . "I want dondurma to be a word that all people know."

He offers traditional Turkish flavours of the goat milk-based dessert, such as halva or dried fig and walnut, but also branches out to Ferrero Rocher and salted caramel.

"Turkish, Middle Eastern, Australians, hipsters in Northcote, they all love it," he says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Could globetrotting gelato be the great cultural unifier every city needs? Order another scoop of durian, cardamom or sour cherry and think it over.

Where to find sensational scoops

Uniquely Turkish: Cuppa Turca

244 High Street, Northcote, cuppaturca.business.site

Indonesia & beyond: Beku Gelato

171 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, beku.com.au

Filipino fun: Kariton Sorbetes

Opening in Footscray in January. karitonsorbetes.com

Crazy for kulfi: Kulfi Bar

Order online for delivery at kulfibar.com.au

Off-the-wall flavours: Kenny Lover

796 High Street, Thornbury, kennylover.com.au

The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, with 350 reviews of Victoria's best restaurants, bars and cafes for summer, is on sale in newsagents and supermarkets now, $9.95