Elijah Ferrian gets schooled on real gelato and tries to stop eating every flavour he sees. Photos by Vinh Dao.
First thing’s first people: there’s a difference between plain old gelato and artisanal gelato. The former will leave your sugar addiction simply satisfied and the latter will have you wondering what the hell just happened to you. A frozen-treat defining moment is bound to occur for any individual that dips a spoon into a product made with the level of care and passion that Ralf imparts to his gelato.
Ralf grew up with an Italian mother and German father in central Germany. He hasn’t been in Vietnam for very long, but he knew exactly what his purpose was after visiting a handful of times before making the move.
“When I was a young man I loved Gelato,” Ralf reminisces. “I remember thinking I could make gelato and dreamt to do this like how a child would dream about being a truck driver.”
My preparation to go to Ralf’s establishment was admittedly very sparse. I thought that we would eat some tasty stuff and be on our way. What changed all of that was the depth of knowledge and unmistakeable obsession Ralf has with his product. He represents the thorough, rigorous attention to detail that defines much of German culture and industry. He knows an impressive amount about his craft, and his story is endearing.
“It was still a secret how to make gelato when I started, and the Italians kept the secrets in the family, and as a stranger, you would never be able to uncover them. At the time I was a public relations consultant in Munich and I had an opportunity to take over a gelateria. I wanted a change in my life and to do what I dreamed of doing. I jumped into the cold water, and it was very cold. I lost a lot of money, and I realised I didn’t know what I was doing. There is gelato, and there is artisanal gelato. Regular gelato is made with processed ingredients that you just pour together. I was not satisfied with this, and I got some tips, and I moved to the North where there was a gelato school. I stopped working with semi-finished products. I’m still not really good, but I have improved.”
Ralf has the cleanest kitchen I have ever seen. It looks more like a science lab than a place where a sweet treat is crafted.
His cornucopia of gelato flavours range from rum raisin, stracciatella, amarena, Hoa Vien beer, and basically anything that he thinks would make an interesting scoop of the good stuff. Ralf hosts 16 rotating flavours at a time, and when they are gone he fills the empty spot with something new. There are a few favourites that he keeps around for his regular customers, 70-to-80 percent of which are Vietnamese locals that have been smitten with Ralf’s icy-cold treats.
The best part is the price. At VND40,000 a scoop this decadent indulgence will set you back as much as a good cup of coffee.
What you’re not going to pay for is the jovial dialogue with the owner, Ralf, weaving you a story while he scoops up a genuine lifetime passion of his, and shares it with a smile. Ask about the spaghetti.