Monday, December 24, 2012

Two Foodies Make Ice Cream for the World

Unlike Vancouver, New York, or San Fransisco, Boston does not (yet) have the reputation for being a vegan hub.

But things are starting to change. 

In Allston, a young, chic, urban couple decided to open an ice cream shop aptly named Fomu. (Do check out their website.) The ice cream is mostly coconut-based with a couple flavors made from an almond/cashew blend. (Soy soft serve will be arriving shortly.) I will admit that I had my reservations when I first visited last summer. Though I'd read nothing but rave reviews online, I prepared myself for their ice cream being "pretty good." But upon tasting the rich flavors, I actually laughed a bit at the disconnect in my brain, thinking "It isn't possible. This HAS to have dairy in it. It's so creamy!" In fact, the longer I tasted it, the more I came to the conclusion that this ice cream was far superior to any I'd tasted.

Deena Jalal and Hin Tang wouldn't, at first glance, seem like the couple you'd expect to obsess over frozen desserts. Deena had gone into marketing and advertising after school, and Hin was working in finance, which kept him busy consulting and traveling.  They were doing well in their respective careers.

Deena, one of the co-owners

And yet they both had a great fondness for fine dining, agreeably lumping themselves into the foodie category. With Hin's family's experience owning several small restaurants, they were familiar with the many aspects of the food business. Owning an ice cream shop became a dream they'd turn over in their heads. As Deena pointed out, ice cream is such a happy food; everybody loves it. Additionally, they began to question whether their current careers were adding value to the world. (Though Deena was quick to clarify that while both lines of work do provide much value as a whole, they were beginning to think their collective contribution to the world lay elsewhere.)

In the midst of all this consideration, the perfect space in Allston became available. It was just the size they would need, and it abutted two popular vegan joints: Grasshopper (a Chinese restaurant) and Peace o' Pie (a pizza parlor. You must get the barbequed chick'n with onion rings on top. Oy.). They realized, "If we don't do it now, we'll never do it."

And so Deena, nine months pregnant with their first child, and Hin bought the space and immediately went into action transforming it into a hip ice cream shop. A few weeks later, Deena gave birth to their son. And a few weeks after that, on May 30, 2012, they opened their doors for business. (I know. I feel lame too.)

Deena and Hin are not vegans, which may make their decision to open a dairy-free ice cream shop all the more surprising. Both, however, had many friends and family who were were either vegan or allergy-prone. (Though being lactose-intolerant is actually quite normal for adult mammals, but that's a whole other subject.) So their goal, in Deena's words, was to "bring ice cream to everybody!" She went on to confess that they were ice cream snobs, so they played with flavors and ingredients until they felt they had a superior product. (They continually experiment and come up with new flavors.)

Deena pointed out that they don't specifically advertise their ice cream as vegan, because some people shut down when they hear that word. In fact, the majority of their customers are not vegan and often don't realize that the ice cream is dairy-free. For Deena and Hin, though, it should be all about tastes that everybody can enjoy. And yet the vegan community is so strong in Boston, that the word spread immediately and they've had a very loyal following.

By the time Deena and I had sat down to talk about their business, I'd previously eaten at Fomu four times and was familiar with/addicted to many of the flavors. (On my first visit, I got my favorite concoction from childhood -- a mint chocolate sundae with hot fudge and coconut ice cream. All vegan. All to-die-for/I-need-to-be-alone good.) The most obvious question to ask was which flavors were her favorites. Her eyes lit up as she glanced up at the menu on the wall. (It changes often, as they only aim to use only fresh ingredients in season.) After thinking a moment she shared that her current favorites were  Cinnamon Bun, Thai Peanut Chli, and Cherry Amaretto. "Say," she said suddenly, "do you want to try some flavors?"

It was like the ice cream fairy godmother flicked her glittery magic wand.

They put a scoop of each of her favorites into a cup and I sampled each in the name of proper research. The Cinnamon Bun actually had pieces of gooey cinnamon bun inside. I wanted to cry a little bit, it was so good. The Thai Peanut Chili was, at first, just a lovely creamy light peanut flavor (and I normally don't like peanut flavors in ice cream) then suddenly the heat curled in a warm unfurlinglike way around the edges of my tongue. So fun and surprising! And addictive. But there was still one flavor to sample: Cherry Amaretto. This baby was plain naughty. The sustantial chunks of cherry inside made me scoop it all into my mouth an a voracious, unladylike way. (But as Ryan so often points out, "Hey. I married now. I can do what I like.")

This past August, Fomu participated in Boston's Ice Cream Showdown, a fundraiser that showcases local ice cream makers in an effort to raise money to fight hunger. Fomu was the only nondairy ice cream vendor there and initially people only trickled to their booth cautiously. Shortly after, though, the word spread and a long line of ice cream fans waited to sample their flavors. Deena was thrilled to see "an overwhelming response from dairy eaters." An interesting trend many noticed was that after eating Fomu's ice cream, all the traditional dairy ice creams seemed overly sweet.

Fomu is located in Allston, a huge student hub due to the gargantuan amount of colleges and universities. You can't walk two feet without tripping over a university. Here a hungry student gets fueled up before going back to work. (Presumably a student. I'm totally making this up.)

Nice little sitting area. I was there from about 4:30 - 5:30. As I left, the post-dinner crowd started to filter in.

I love the layout of this place. On the left is a freezer full of well-frozen pints to take home. They survived the heated one-hour traffic-ridden ride home on the Pike very well.

Very important to get a hot beverage if you're getting ice cream in winter.

I haven't tried these yet, but I have to believe they are spectacular. 

Fomu's been much talked about in Boston. There have been rave reviews from The Boston Globe, The Boston Pheonix, and VegNews. I even came across this random blog entry which mentioned a BEAR going into the store. I suddenly realized I was there at the same moment the blogger was because I remember seeing that bear last summer! And sure enough, you can see me in the background in one of the pictures, with a black tanktop on. Crazy coincidence! (If you are confused about the bear part, as well you should be, check out the blog entry and scroll down to the pictures.)

Anyhow, if you come through Boston, I hope for your sake that you check this place out. If you truly care about your taste buds, you will head straight over to Fomu. Try the aforementioned flavors plus the Salted Caramel and the Dark and Stormy. Mmm...