​Fishy fusion: German artisan adds Vietnamese flair to iconic Italian dessert

Fishy fusion: German artisan adds Vietnamese flair to iconic Italian dessert
Raft Ehresmann talks about his gelato made from Vietnamese fish sauce. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

A German man living in Ho Chi Minh City is lighting up taste buds with his creative twists on traditional Italian gelato, particularly his specialty flavor: fish sauce.

Raft Ehresmann’s shop has made a name for itself over the past three years as a go-to dessert spot for anyone looking to satiate their sweet tooth with homemade creamy gelato.

Located on Dang Thi Nhu Street in District 1, Ralf’s Arisan Gelato offers traditional flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, and strawberry alongside local fusion twists, such as his famed fish sauce gelato.

A haunt of local diners, Ralf’s Artisan Gelato has been on the receiving end of a great deal of praise from foreign tourists and expats alike.

The small shop is currently ranked sixth among over 180 dessert spots in Ho Chi Minh City on TripAdvisor.

It was also featured in American Airlines’ magazine American Way piece titled “Fish sauce is the new vanilla.”

Is it edible?

“They always laugh,” Ehresmann said of customers’ reactions to his fish sauce gelato.

According to Ehresmann, customers typically laugh when given a small spoon to sample the gelato.

Adventurous eaters then choose to buy a scoop to dive deeper into the unique flavor – a soft balance between sweet and salty, similar in some ways to salted caramel.

“After swallowing the gelato for a moment, people always go ‘oh I can really taste the fish’,” the German man said, adding that he typically sells out a three-liter container of fish sauce gelato every 2-3 days.

The Munich-born gelato pioneer is now used to people visiting his shop solely to find out if fish sauce gelato is a real thing.

“It’s weird, but I want try it again,” said Hai Hoang, a Vietnamese customer at Ehresmann’s shop, after sampling the fish sauce gelato.

“I think foreigners would accept this flavor easier than Vietnamese because, in our mind, fish sauce is not for dessert,” he added.

Hoang also shared his appreciation for Ehresmann’s interest in Vietnamese cuisine and his vision to integrate an iconic Vietnamese ingredient into his gelato in such a surprising way.

“It’s a way to help promote Vietnamese food culture,” Hoang said.

Fish sauce gelato is served with peanuts and a piece of waffle at Ralf’s Arisan Gelato. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

Fish sauce gelato is served with peanuts and a piece of waffle at Ralf’s Arisan Gelato. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

An April’s Fool prank finds life

The idea for fish sauce gelato first hit Ehresmann about three years ago, shortly after he opened his shop, when a French advertising company invited him to participate in an April Fool’s Day collaboration project.

For the project, Ehresmann would participate in a video in which he pretended his shop was selling ‘authentic’ Vietnamese-flavored gelato made from chicken feet, frog, silkworm, pho bo (beef noodle soup), and fish sauce.

The video quickly became an Internet sensation and Ehresmann started to worry.

“What if customers come and find no gelato flavors like in the video?” he thought.

That was when the shop owner decided to give it a shot.

He began putting in serious work to make real versions of the pho bo sorbet and fish sauce featured in the joke video.

For the gelato, Ehresmann mixed fish sauce with other gelato ingredients to create his own unique recipe that would highlight the Vietnamese ingredient.

For the pho bo sorbet, he bought real bowls of pho from nearby restaurants, added all the herbs and vegetables “like a real bowl of pho,” let it sit, and then separated the flavorful broth from the solid ingredients.

Afterward, he blended it with other sorbet ingredients.

Of course, Ehresmann reminds his customers that neither the pho bo nor fish sauce-flavored deserts are vegetarian.

Though both the pho bo sorbet and fish sauce gelato came to life after the April Fool’s prank, the former was never a big hit and he eventually took it off his menu.

Another Vietnamese flavor is now also being sold at Ehresmann’s gelato shop is sua chua nep cam (black glutinous rice yogurt).

Before moving to Vietnam, Ehresmann spent seven years making gelato in Munich.

Fish sauce gelato is seen being sold along with other flavors at Ralf’s Arisan Gelato. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

Fish sauce gelato is seen being sold along with other flavors at Ralf’s Arisan Gelato. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

He made his first visit to Vietnam in 2013.

During that trip he tried pho for the first time and decided he would try making it into a sorbet, but never quite got around to it.

A few years later, his business in Munich began to go downhill and he decided to begin a new life with his Vietnamese wife in her home country.

After a few years in the Southeast Asian country, Ehresmann said he has become “a little bit” Vietnamese.

“You know, fish sauce is unavoidable in Vietnam,” he said with a smile.

Meanwhile, his wife admitted she never truly believed her husband’s fish sauce gelato would be such a big hit.

“I thought it would be very hard to eat,” she recalled.

“But when it turned out to be good, I started to feel a bit proud of my husband and his work ‘combining’ Vietnamese flavors with Italian gelato.”

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