The fastest way to cool down when you’re stuck in tropical Singapore heat is to savour a nice cold ice cream, but why settle for ubiquitous mass production popsicles when you can easily get some good ol’ homemade ice cream AND even indulge in your favourite local flavours too? Ice cream is one of my favourite foods and I think it’s a fun way to try some Singaporean flavours – here’s a list of my favourite artisanal ice cream shops in Singapore that serve local Singaporean-food ice cream flavours.
If there’s one food I’ll never say no to trying whether I’m at home or travelling, it’s ice cream. My go-to flavour is good ol’ chocolate, but I’ve encountered some pretty unusual and creative flavours all around the world, like soy sauce ice cream in Shodoshima, a Japanese island famous for its soy sauce production, or squid ink ice cream in the fishing town of Nanfang’ao in Yilan, Taiwan.
Regular readers will know I don’t consider myself much of a foodie, but I’ve loved ice cream all my life, and actually spent some time researching, interviewing and even wrote a commissioned article on the history of ice cream in Singapore and some of my favourite local ice cream shops for coffeet&i magazine and published in its Aug-Sep 2020 issue (Read in PDF here). You can only put so much in print, so I thought I’d delve a little deeper into my personal recommendations on my favourite artisanal ice cream shops in Singapore.
A disclaimer that this article is not sponsored and purely based on my own experiences. I bought and ate a lot of ice cream (in the name of research of course…) and I also got to speak to some of the founders personally which I thought would be pretty cool to share.
A quick history of ice cream in Singapore
Growing up in Singapore, ice cream for me was one of three things:
- Various Magnolia or Walls ice creams from the neighbourhood mama shop, usually popsicles or in a small cup and a treat on a hot day. I favoured the orange ice popsicles, or the tiny zoo cup
- Potong on a stick from the supermarket, which I was never fond of as a kid because chocolate is my king, but I’ve grown a bit more partial to flavours like mango as I got older. Popular flavours include red bean, coconut and durian.
- The ice cream cart on the corner with a bell that draws you in like a magnet. $1 for a slab of chocolate ice cream sandwiched between two tiny wafers = heaven. Also popular are the rainbow bread ice cream sandwich as well as flavours like raspberry ripple, sweet corn and chocolate chip.
Artisanal home made ice cream in Singapore wasn’t really a thing until the early 2000s when some local entrepreneurs dived into the business, but I think really only caught on as a wider trend in the last decade or so. You’ll see a number of them featured here, but know that nowadays I’m happy to report that there are many, many artisanal ice cream shops in Singapore, and there’s quite a diversity of offerings as well. I can’t fit them all in here though – these are just my favourite ones.
Island Creamery: A pioneer
Island Creamery can be considered the original pioneer in artisanal ice cream in Singapore as it started in 2003. They made some waves back then by creating an ice cream shop that took flavours that Singaporeans knew and loved from local drinks and desserts like Chendol, Horlicks and even Tiger Beer and turning them into ice cream, which was quite unheard of at that time.
I chatted with Island Creamery founder Stanley Kwok at their King’s Arcade cafe and he shared with me that Island Creamery wanted to standout from the well-known supermarket brands by focusing on producing premium ice cream with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. You might not realise it, but a lot of work actually goes into creating the various flavours which they make in-house from scratch, like steeping and extracting the tea for the popular teh tarik flavour, and using fresh coconut water for their coconut-based flavours.
Tried and Tested Flavours
Overall, Island Creamery usually has about 20 flavours on display and some seasonal flavours occasionally, but they have some crowd favourites that are pretty much always on the menu like pulut hitam, coconut swirl, cookies and cream, horlicks and soursop. Generally their flavours can be classified into coconut-based, milk-based and fruit-based.
I asked Stanley whether they’ve created any more unusual flavours, and he said that while they do make some unusual flavours on occasion, that really isn’t the focus of the Island Creamery brand and they tend to stick to flavours “that people will actually want to buy and eat” because “most people really aren’t that adventurous”. While people are happy to try the weird flavours, they tend to buy the familiar flavours ultimately, which… sounds a lot like me :p
My personal recommendations for Island Creamery flavours:
- Teh Tarik: I’ve developed a taste for milk tea in recent years, and Stanley recommended this kopitiam favourite. I like that the tea-flavour isn’t too acidic, and also appreciated that they do a lot of work just to make the tea before even creating the ice cream. Here’s an interesting fact – they actually have a copyright on Teh Tarik ice cream
- Reverso: Dark chocolate ice cream with oreo bits. I will admit I am one of those boring people Stanley talks about, but you know what, I like chocolate and I’m not a fan of coconut~
- Tiger Beer Sorbet: I definitely tried this for the novelty, but it’s pretty refreshing in our weather and not too bitter either
Location: Bukit Timah
Island Creamery has their main branch and cafe at King’s Arcade along Bukit Timah Road where they make the ice cream in house. They have a smaller outlet at Ion Orchard for takeaways only.
Singaporeans might remember that they used to be Serene Centre for the longest time, and also spent some time at King Albert Park too, but they’ve always stayed around the Bukit Timah area. Stanley tells me their shop used to be a very popular dating and studying location (lots of schools around here, as well as expats and the well-heeled living in the private residential estates) because there weren’t many such spots back in the day.
Tom’s Palette: Unique tastes
My personal favourite artisanal ice cream shop in Singapore is Tom’s Palette, named for a friend of the founders who doubted their business would work out when they launched in 2005. Tom’s Palette has since become well-known for its creative, experimental and sometimes truly weird flavour options of ice cream.
“Why not?” was what co-founder Chronos Chan said when we sat down to chat at their cafe at Middle road, saying he was always curious about how any food might be able to be made into ice cream form while keeping its original characteristics as intact as possible. Innovation is a large part of Tom’s Palette’s DNA, and I love that I never quite know what I’m going to get when I visit their shop.
Experimental Unusual Flavours
Over the many years they’ve been in business, Chronos estimates that Tom’s Palette has produced over 190 different flavours, which just sounds crazy to me. That’s also probably why they don’t actually have a signature flavour as they don’t want to be pinned down to specific flavours. They do have a small handful of customer favourites that usually can be found on sale, like Granny’s Favourite (Chocolate malt with chocolate chips and cookie dough) and salted caramel cheesecake, which Chronos says they were the pioneer of way back in 2007.
I frequented the Tom’s Palette shop at its old premises when my office used to be in the same building, and every visit was always an adventure as they rotate the flavours very frequently. It was a fun distraction in the middle of the work day to pop downstairs and try all the different weird flavours on offer. I have a very vivid memory of sampling two flavours then: Pineapple tart and Lavender. I was just blown away but how much like the original tart it tasted, as well as Lavender which was very much like eating the physical form of the smell of Lavender, or potpourri.
Savoury flavours have also made it to Tom’s Palette’s menu. They caught some fame for their creation of Nasi Lemak ice cream, which Chronos shared involve a lot of research on how to make this Malay dish of coconut rice with fried ikan bilis and peanuts work as an ice cream. Other Singaporean dishes that have made it to ice cream form: chee cheong fun, salted egg yolk and even tao cheo (fermented soy bean paste)!
My personal recommendations:
- Nasty Mix is a family favourite – chocolate with peanut butter and pretzels, and I have to buy a whole tub back because it finishes up too quickly otherwise
- Milo Dinosaur takes an already awesome malty chocolate drink of milo and makes it even better. I love the little bits of milo powder chunks in the ice cream
- Granny’s Favourite is a can’t-go-wrong flavour, malted chocolate with chocolate chips and cookie dough
You’re normally allowed to have up to 2 flavours even in a small cup, so I usually pick a new flavour to go along with something less risky to get the best of both worlds:
Tom’s Palette is currently located at 51 Middle Road, not far from Bugis Junction and the National Library. Besides ice cream, they also have other desserts like waffles, coffee and tea available.
They were located at Shaw Towers for the longest time until the building en-bloced, and they moved out to their own unit a short distance away. I have very fond memories of the old place because my office used to be just upstairs.
The Humble Scoop: New + nostalgic
In the 17 years since Island Creamery’s launch, the artisanal ice cream scene in Singapore has grown significantly, with numerous new shops popping up all around the island. You don’t have to travel far just to get your home-made ice cream fix any more! Many of these new ice cream shops have their own unique spin on ingredients and concepts that have earned them loyal followings, but I was most impressed by The Humble Scoop which has some of the most nostalgic and Singapore-inspired flavours.
Flavours inspired by Singaporean memories
It looks like a nondescript ice cream shop at first glance, but take a closer look at their ice cream display and you’ll notice some unusual local flavours. If you look on their website or chat with Yvonne like I did, you’ll learn that each flavour is inspired by a personal memory Kwek had of growing up in Singapore.
She told me about how she’d read an article about another chef saying that Singapore doesn’t have its own unique flavours since our local food actually comes from all over the world and then adapted to suit our tastes, which was what made her realise that the only thing that truly belonged to Singaporeans are the memories of living and growing up in Singapore, which is what inspired the ice cream flavours that she created.
The memories behind The Humble Scoop ice cream flavours are detailed on their website, but I could easily relate to many of the flavours just by their names. Kopi-C Siu Dai (coffee with sugar, evaporated milk and less condensed milk – isn’t the local name so much more succinct?) is based on a favourite local coffee order often heard yelled out in a kopitiam. Orh Bee Good is a play on how local children used to mock each other when they got their just deserves, but also close to an alternate name for Pulut Hitam (Orh Bee Beh) which is one of the store’s most popular favourites. One of Yvonne’s personal favourites is the Guava Sourplum sorbet, which brings to mind one of the unusual ways her family and other Singaporeans eat guava and other cut fruit – by dipping it into sour plum powder.
My Recommendation would be the flavour that I picked called Gam Xia: the citrusy and refreshing Gam Xia is a play on the Cantonese name for Mandarin Orange and the phrase for ‘thank you’. I was surprised by the bits of chewy dried orange peel in every bite, reminiscent of a local snack I ate as a child.
The Humble Scoop is located in the basement of the aging Katong Shopping Centre where many maid agencies are today – I used to work nearby and mostly visited this building for the awesome Delicious Boneless Chicken Rice in the basement food court along with the old school Dona Manis Bakery, but in 2018 long after I’d left this job, The Humble Scoop was opened by Yvonne Kwek a few stores down from the bakery.
Butterknife Folk: Always surprising
Rounding out this list is Butterknife Folk, another newer ice cream shop which opened in 2016. They are currently located in Funan Shopping Centre, though I had seen them at pop-up events previously. They made waves in August 2020 which is the month of Singapore’s National Day celebrations by dropping a whole slew of Singaporean food-inspired flavours.
The main reason this shop caught my eye at first was because they were serving Chicken Rice gelato. That’s right, a nice warm plate of chicken rice transformed into a creamy gelato. How would that taste? I couldn’t bring myself to buy an entire scoop in case I hated it, so I opted for their taster set of three small cones that also allowed me to sample Muah Chee, a glutinous rice snack coated with peanuts, as well as White Rabbit, based on the Chinese milk candy that’s also a favourite of Singaporean children.
If you were wondering how exactly this chicken rice gelato tasted, I could immediately pick out the distinct chicken rice flavour with a hint of ginger, garlic and chicken stock at first bite, along with a few improbable grains of rice as I chewed. It was a little surreal to encounter these savoury tastes in a dessert, but not bad tasting at all. Muah Chee and White Rabbit tasted like cold versions of their original form, so nothing too surprising there.
The surprisingly enthusiastic reaction from customers to the Chicken Rice gelato was what kicked off the creation of other savoury flavours at Butterknife Folk. Founder Ingrid Lim said that they only made Chicken Rice gelato for their own entertainment and to push the technical boundaries of creating savoury gelato flavours and whether they could get the gelato to taste exactly like the original dish, just in a cold and creamy form.
Location: City Hall
Butterknife Folk is centrally located in Funan Shopping Centre
Other notable ice cream stores to check out
There are really too many ice cream shops out there for me to list down all of them, but here are some other notable names that I have tried that you can check out for yourself:
- The Daily Scoop: Another longterm stalwart with its first store at Sunset Way in 2006, The Daily Scoop is a great option for good quality artisanal ice cream. Nothing too fancy, but you can never really go wrong with them either.
- Udders: Udders has a few standalone stores but these days you can find their pints and cups in supermarkets and shops. They’re pretty well known for their MaoShan Wang durian ice cream and some pretty strong alcoholic flavours if that rocks your boat. I adore their Orange Chocolate Bitters flavour which is Triple Sec and Dark Chocolate, but find their Rum and Raisin and Whisky Chocolate way too boozy for my liking.
- Birds of Paradise: If you like botanical flavours, you’ll enjoy the selection on offer at Birds of Paradise which are influenced by Southeast Asian herbs and plants. Their shop smells like a dream mostly because of their thyme-infused waffle cones which are freshly made on site.
- Creamier: Besides great ice cream located amongst the Toa Payoh housing estate, Creamier is also known for great waffles and their little shop is pretty packed especially on weekends. Their chocolate is pretty solid (love the Orange chocolate, which sadly they don’t have right now) and I liked their Thai Milk Tea as well, but popular flavours include the Sea Salt Gula Melaka and Early Grey Lavender.
What are your favourite ice cream shops in Singapore? Let me know in the comments so I know whether to go check them out!
Looking for more posts about Singapore? Check out all my posts about Singapore’s lesser known corners to plan your next exploration of Singapore.