I scream, you scream, Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen screams for ice cream at Toto Ice Cream and Dessert Cafe, which offers indulgences to satisfy any sweet tooth. Photos by James Grant.
I’ve never been a huge ice cream eater—I’ll take a tiramisu or a sticky toffee pudding over a cone most of the time. But when you live in the sweltering climate of Cambodia, sometimes only a frosty scoop of ice cream will do the trick. Lining up at the counter to choose a flavour brings back the joy of childhood, when good behaviour was so often rewarded with ice cream.
Ice cream parlours around the world are becoming replaced with sterile, efficiency-orientated chains, but ToTo in Phnom Penh makes getting ice cream still feel like a treat. This is no grab-and-go ice cream assembly line, but a place that is suited for chatting with friends while spooning a dessert at leisure.
The décor conjures up a charming dollhouse, with polka dot cushions and floral wallpaper in a pastel colour scheme. Breathy cover versions of pop songs play at soft levels. The staff is warm and serves up generous smiles as they serve up scoops.
Flavours rotate at ToTo, but there are usually about 23 kinds on display. Among the ones I sample, the coffee is rich and sweet, the chocolate is dark and decadent and the coconut jackfruit is lightly aromatic. The passion fruit-mango sorbet is refreshing yet not quite up to my expectations in texture and tanginess. I don’t dare touch the durian flavour, but figure that it must attract some fans of the stinky fruit.
For those who can’t commit to merely one or two varieties, there’s the option for six mini-cones of the flavours of your choice (US$2.20). For a group—or the especially ambitious eater—there’s the ToTo Monster, a whopping assortment of nine full-sized scoops (US$7.80). As the menu explains, ToTo ice cream melts faster than usual because it is additive-free, so don’t hold back or you’ll soon be left with cream soup.
If you aren’t into cups or cones, there’s the option to have blended ice cream. More icy than milky, the range of milkshakes isn’t quite up to American standards of thickness. This version is more akin to a Frappuccino, yet can be a satisfying concoction in its own way—especially the cookie bits-laden Oreo Crunchy with whipped cream (US$3.30), my personal favourite.
A popular order, particularly among the Cambodian clientele, is the mango and sticky rice dish, which comes as a sliced mango with mango ice cream and coconut glutinous rice (US$4.30). Though I feel some more coconut milk could make it even better, it’s a tasty take on the classic Southeast Asian dish. After all, adding ice cream to any dessert can do no harm—options with waffles, pancakes and cream puffs paired with ice cream are also in plenty.
Toto doesn’t serve my favourite dessert choice of tiramisu, but it does sometimes have tiramisu ice cream, which I hope to have on my next trip to the parlour. I’m also crossing my fingers for a sticky toffee pudding flavour. Who’s with me?