There are some things worth a long bus ride across a city, and I include a bowl of awesome ice cream in that list. That’s exactly what I did at the weekend, having tried and failed on previous occasions to find Nuttaporn Ice Cream – which I’d been led to believe was close by to backpacker enclave Khaosan Road.
In fact, while in the same district of the city, it is a fair distance away and closer to the open green area of Sanam Luang. But even if you are in the area to see the famous Grand Palace, it is unlikely that you will stumble across this gem of an old shophouse, tucked away as it is on the town square type road of Praeng Phutton – which feels in itself like a tiny, remote village. Here you are but a couple of minutes’ walk from the bustling thoroughfare of Ratchdamnoen Avenue, that scary fifty-lane death trap of traffic you have to hurtle through to get from one side to the other. And yet step into Praeng Phutton and it feels like you have been transported a million miles away, to somewhere you can hear your own thoughts again, and where quiet everyday life seems to carry on entirely unperturbed by the chaos just a stone’s throw away back in the real world.
The buildings around Praeng Phutton – as with those on other roads in the immediate vicinity of this ‘vintage part of old Bangkok’, as one friend put it – are simply stunning. Think wooden fronted shophouses in shades of pastel yellow and rich, deep green. A few of the houses double up as noodle shops or similar, one or two tout other wares – but there is no denying that this is an odd place for an ice cream parlour. There is practically no passing trade to speak of, at least in the way you’d imagine it – and you can come to one of only two conclusions as to how the place has survived so long (it’s clearly old); either the inhabitants of this small are wannabe diabetics who eat a heck of a lot of ice cream, or the family running it have earned themselves one whacking great reputation for quality which means they can now comfortably laugh at the thought of passing trade being a necessity. Me? I’m going with the second option.
But ice cream is what you’re coming here for, and boy does it deliver. Forget any notions you have about gloop served up in sundae form at Swensen’s – I’ve never understood the hype the place gets – or the 10-baht bowls of coconut ice cream touted all over the city by men with mobile freezers (they’re quaint, and you can give me one of those over a Swensen’s any day). At Nuttaporn, your choices may be limited, but the quality is top notch. My choices – yes, I had two bowls and had to seriously talk myself out of ordering a third – were for mango, made with a rare and premium, almost red skinned variety of the fruit, and durian, their special limited edition flavour of the month.
Portions are relatively small – 4 miniature scoops in a pretty, shabby chic bowl – but the product packs wow factor and wins the day. My fears that the mango ice cream looked a bit icy in consistency were quickly allayed, and in fact it oozed sweetness; but a natural sweetness, induced not by heaps of sugar but by the sheer prevalence of the fresh fruit that had gone into the churn. Eating it was literally like eating a mango, only smoother, softer, even more pleasurable and just a little more cold. The durian, meanwhile – my first time trying this Marmite-like fruit in frozen form, lent a meaty, chewy, crunchy texture to the ice cream; all in an immensely positive way. The strength of flavour of the durian shone through, again as if I were sucking the flesh away from the stone of a real fruit, perfectly balanced by the creaminess and balanced sweetness.
Other flavours include a classic coconut, which would have been my third choice had I had the stamina for another bowl, plus chocolate, coffee and tea. There is something incredibly peaceful and tranquility-inducing about watching locals cross the square to take a seat at one of the three old tables at the front of the shop, order up a bowl of ice cream and slowly tuck in as they watch the world go past. It’s all rather a tale of the way of life here – one that most of us would envy. The ice cream, meanwhile, comes with added toppings of fruits, nuts and other treats if you fancy going the Thai way – if not, do as I did and take it plain, perhaps the best way to enjoy the outrageously fresh and in-your-face flavours.
Most flavours cost 20 baht for 4 small scoops; mango costs 30 baht and the limited edition durian flavour is 40 baht. Toppings 5 baht extra each. To get to Nuttaporn, start at the Royal Hotel on Ratchdamnoen Avenue and take Rachini Road alongside the hotel. Keep walking until you reach Praeng Phutton on the left hand side – head into the street, walk straight until you reach the centre of the square that houses a local hospital. Take the road round to the right of this and, at the end of the block on the corner, you’ll find the ice cream kitchen of Nuttaporn shielded by a large parasol or two – there’s a small blackboard visible from the street bearing the words ‘Nuttaporn Ice Cream’, but perhaps the biggest giveaway is the fridge display of fresh fruit toppings and the like. If you get lost, just ask any local once you’re into Praeng Phutton – they all seem to know it. Elsewhere on Praeng Phutton, The Bhuthorn guest house right next door to Nuttaporn looks like a winner, while the square also seems to house a shophouse serving up pig’s brain soup, another dish I’ve been looking to try for some time (admittedly elsewhere, in Chinatown). It turns out little middle-of-nowhere Praeng Phutton is more of a foodie destination than you thought.