What is Dirty Ice Cream?

Q&A with Omar Shah

Owner of Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream IN LONDON

We sell ‘dirty ice cream’—but don’t worry, it’s perfectly sanitary!

What makes Mamasons unique?

Filipino flavors are a world away from what you normally see in London–Ube (purple yam), matcha, Milo (malted chocolate), and black buko (coconut charcoal) are just a few of our mainstays. We sell "dirty ice cream"—but don’t worry, it’s perfectly sanitary! It's just like what the street vendors sell back home [in the Phillipines]—dirty ice cream is a lot closer to a sorbet.


What is your earliest ice cream memory?

When I was growing up in London, Filipino food was really hard to come by, and finding Filipino ice cream was nearly impossible. Every year, my mum would take me to a Filipino festival called Barrio Fiesta, and she would buy me Ube ice cream. That once-a-year festival was the only time I could find it, and I would dream of its taste in the months between.


What is your most popular offering?

Definitely our Ube ice cream. Ube is kind of like a yam, but it’s got an earthy, rich texture and taste that’s hard to find in other flavors. People also love the color—where else are you going to get purple ice cream? It became so popular that we started making other desserts out of it, like ube brownies, milkshakes, and hot chocolate.


What is your favorite flavor?

I like to get a bit of two of our flavors, Guyabano and Calamansi, and mix them together. The two flavors each have a really strong taste on their own, and together it’s too overwhelming for most people. I love strong flavors so I really don’t mind, but some of the staff think I’m crazy for trying it.


What is the most unique flavor you ever offered?

Queso. We made a three-cheese blend in ice cream form. It was meant to be our flavor of the month last Halloween, but it’s been so popular that we just keep bringing it back.


What inspires you and why?

Memories of my time in the Philippines and the desserts there. Whenever we’re trying to think of a new flavor of the month, I tell the staff to think of the Philippines and what flavors you’d find there.


How did you get your start in the ice cream business?

Once I knew I wanted to bring Filipino ice cream to London, I started using my free time to research things like how to get vegetables like ube and guyabano imported to London. I already ran two restaurants in London, Guanabana and Bintang, which made experimenting with new recipes and new flavors a bit easier for me.


How did you learn to make ice cream?

I’m a graduate of Gelato University, which sounds a lot fancier than it is. It’s a short course from Carpigiani, an ice cream machine manufacturer. They taught my partner and me the basics of making ice cream, and we pretty much figured everything out on our own after that. We’re still learning as we go.


What is the secret to scooping ice cream?

To make sure your scoops are clean and consistent, you need a good, reliable scooper. Your ice cream needs to be at the right temperature too–if it’s too cold, you’ll spend days trying to carve a scoop out of it, and if it’s too hot, you’ll just make a mess.


Cup or cone?

Cone. At Mamasons we make our own black sugar cones to go with the ice cream. It’s great to eat with a scoop of Ube or Black Buko.


What is your topping of choice?

Something natural that compliments the flavor of the ice cream, so the topping depends on the flavor. I like something sweet, like plantain and jackfruit, to go with a sour scoop like Calamansi.


A surprising thing you’ve learned about ice cream?

It’s a lot more complicated than I first thought. I used to be a chef, and when you’re cooking, you can usually salvage a botched recipe it with some spice or seasoning. But when you’re making a cake or a batch of ice cream, if you mess up one step, it’s over. It takes a lot of care to make consistently good ice cream, and I have a lot of respect for the businesses that manage to do it.


Best advice for those who want to get into the ice cream biz?

Eat lots of ice cream—seriously! You need to get a taste for what works and what doesn’t work, and the only way to do that is to try new things. Have fun and be passionate, because you’ll be putting blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of money into making professional ice cream.


Any industry mentor or person who inspires you?

Danny Meyer. I’ve read his book, Setting the Table, at least five times now. His stories are so engaging that I forget I’m learning about how to improve my business.

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Lauren Goldstein