Chill Out! Shanghai's Best (& Worst) Ice Cream Sandwiches

By Sophie Steiner, July 25, 2023

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In just one week's time – on August 2 – it will be National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, a day that marks the 124th birthday of the ice cream sandwich – America’s iconic summertime dessert that, throughout the past century, has made a trip around the globe. 

This cooling treat can trace its origin back to the sweltering backstreets of New York City, where pushcart salesmen peddled them alongside other celebrated American street eats – like hot dogs and ‘churned butter’ milkshakes – enabling them to become a longstanding summertime tradition. 

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But the USA isn't the only place claiming the ice cream sandwich as their own. Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Israel, Uruguay, and even Iran – among others – have their own take on this cold and creamy treat. 

From the bánh mì kẹp kem in Vietnam (a street vendor snack with ice cream smooshed between two pieces of white bread) to Iran’s bastani-e nooni (a saffron and rosewater flavored ice cream that’s dipped in pistachios and served between two wafers), the definition of an ice cream sandwich has greatly expanded over the years.

(Along with our waistlines.)

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When it comes to actual ice cream, gelato and soft serve, Shanghai’s frozen treat game is real strong. 

From one-off heavy hitters – like Dal Cuore, Luneurs, and Gracie’s – to internationally recognized chains like – Dairy Queen, Zakuzaku, Venchi and even Dippin' Dots – there is no shortage of options for keeping cool in the summer. 

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But what about upping the ante by placing said ice cream between two other treacly confections for an all-round frozen bite of gluttony?

We scoured Shanghai’s ice cream sandwich scene to bring you pretty much all the available options.

Blaz – Ice Cream Pâte à Choux (RMB70)

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Chef Chris Zhu of Blaz is serving up a weekend-only lunch special of Ice Cream Pâte à Choux (RMB70) – part of his newly launched summer menu.

Pâte à choux is a classic French pastry dough used for everything from cream puffs to éclairs, but Zhu takes it a step further, adding a crumbled sugar crust, inspired by the Japanese melon bun, or a Hong Kong-style pineapple bun. 

The trio of ice cream scoops are all homemade using a Pacojet, high-end kit that results in a silky smooth mouthful, one that is further spotlighted by the pastry's crispy topper.

Sliced to order, diners can choose between salted caramel, vanilla, milk, or all three, with a tart pop of seasonal berries to temper the sweetness.

But take note this pastry is only on offer every Saturday and Sunday between 11.30am-2pm, so rearrange your plans accordingly. 

Blaz, 20 Donghu Lu, by Huaihai Lu, 东湖路20号, 近淮海路.

Bun Cha Cha Grill – Pandan Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB58)

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Regardless of what meats or mains you order at Bun Cha Cha Grill, skipping the Pandan Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB58) would be a major disservice to your future self and an insult to ice cream sandwiches of the world.

banh mi baguette is sliced open and toasted before being slathered with sweet pandan cream and stuffed with a heaping scoop of coconut ice cream, all brought together with a condensed milk drizzle.

The toasted crunch of the bread juxtaposed against the creamy ooze of melting ice cream makes for a sinfully moreish bite. 

Pro Tip: One order minimum per person; you won't want to share. 

Bun Cha Cha Grill, 692 Yongjia Lu, by Anting Lu 永嘉路692号, 近安亭路.

Cantina Agave – Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB50)

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Like a frothy mug of horchata meets a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch – emphasis on the crunch Cantina Agave's Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB50) is what Mexican dessert dreams are made of. 

Three heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream are sandwiched between crispy churro pinwheels, sprinkled with enough cinnamon and sugar to turn a classroom full of seven-year-olds into a Full Moon Party-esque rave.

As your mouth moves towards the center, the ice cream squeezes between the churros' ridges, filling every nook and cranny, creating mini pools of sugary goo. 

While the churro "cookies" are crunchier than expected, we do tip our hats to the Cantina Agave team for creating the most structurally sound ice cream sandwich on this list.

We took photos of it in raging Shanghai summer heat, and took our sweet time savoring every last cinnamon-y bite, and it stayed intact with ease.

A testament to the churros' sugar-coated sturdiness. 

Cantina Agave, 291 Fumin Lu, by Changle Lu 富民路291号, 近长乐路.

Family Mart – Dongbei Daban Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB6)

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Dongbei Daban is one of China’s most widely distributed ice cream bar brands, easily recognizable for their retro packaging that can be spotted in every Family Mart freezer.

The original Dongbei Daban ice cream bar is just a thick rectangular slab of milk flavored ice cream. Simple, yet delicious, and sold for around RMB3. 

For an extra couple yuan, they throw on two graham flavored cookies that soften like shortbread and taste exactly how you would expect a store bought ice cream sandwich to taste – a delectable walk further down memory lane with every saccharine bite.

High in the bang-for-your-buck category, we give the Dongbei Daban Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB6) two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Gelato Dal Cuore – Brioche con Gelato (RMB48)

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Gelato Dal Cuore's gelato flavors are a labor of love, with Italy-trained Gelato Chef Gerard Low focusing on sourcing the highest quality ingredients that result in the ideal balance of flavor and texture.

Supported by their die-hard fan base, the six shops around town plus delivery cover a radius that encompasses nearly the entire city, keeping Shanghai's sugar addicts covered with cooling desserts all summer long. 

Aside from the lineup of 14 rotating flavors – like Tahitian Vanilla, Mascarpone & Figs, Lychee Rose, Coconut Pandan, and (pictured above) Black Sesame  that can be served in a cone or cup, our favorite way to enjoy this creamy treat is as the Italians prefer it – nestled inside a toasted brioche bun as the Brioche con Gelato (RMB48), a plush bready base encircling two behemoth scoops of the flavor of your choosing (or, hell, with so many fun flavors, mix and match!) 

Gelato Dal Cuore, 600 North Shaanxi Bei Lu, by Xinzha Lu,  陕西北路600号, 近新闸路.

GoodFellas–Tartufo Bianco (RMB88) 

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Clocking in as the most expensive "ice cream sandwich" on our list, the Tartufo Bianco (RMB88) barely sneaks its way into the ice cream sandwich category.

For the GoodFellas’ take on a tartufo, vanilla ice cream is mixed with macadamia nut slivers and coated in a hard shell of white satin chocolate and almond ‘cookies’ and placed atop a glistening serving of raspberry purée and vanilla cream. 

Is it tasty? Most definitely. 

Does it qualify as an ice cream sandwich? Debatable, but we’re willing to push the definition far enough to include this macadamia-filled mouthful on our list. 

GoodFellas, 7 Yan'an Dong Lu, by Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 延安东路7号, 近中山东一路.

Highline – Sea Salt Chocolate Chip & Vanilla Ice Cream (RMB58)

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Highline offers the utmost elevated version of this sweet treat – the Sea Salt and Chocolate Chip with Vanilla Ice Cream (RMB58) – a "deconstructed ice cream sandwich" if you will, which is just a fancy way of saying, "make it yourself, b*tch."

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The vanilla ice cream with oat crumble is nothing to write home about. That said, after trying those warm, gooey sea salt double dark chocolate chunk cookies, we would do just about anything for them (even if it means assembling them into a haphazard melty mess ourselves). 

The dessert comes with four cookies; we crushed two before remembering "oh yeah, we should probably take a photo – the reason we are here."

We guarantee you will leave Highline equal parts sticky and satisfied. 

Highline, 6/F, 282 Huaihai Zhong Lu, by Huangpi Nan Lu, 淮海中路282号6楼, 近黄陂南路.

The Kitchen Table (W Shanghai – The Bund) – Candy Profiterole Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB90)

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A trio of premium Italian gelato-stuffed profiteroles are served atop a glass candy tray at W Shanghai – The Bund's The Kitchen Table, available on the newly launched summer menu as the Candy Profiterole Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB90).

Like a dismantled slab of Neapolitan ice cream, the correspondingly flavored home-baked profiteroles encase Valrhona 58% dark chocolate mint gelato, strawberry gelato and tart lemon gelato, respectively. 

Our only gripe comes with the bite – one that causes an unavoidable ice cream avalanche as the profiterole's flimsy, puffed exterior is no match for the dense gelato – making them wholly unshareable.

So while there are three to choose from, you really have to pick your poison.

(Our suggestion is death by chocolate. Forever and always.)

The Kitchen Table, 66 Lvshun Lu, 旅顺路66号.

Lawson – Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB12.6)

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Childhood nostalgia in a plastic wrapper is the best way to sum up Lawson's Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB12.60) – cookies and cream ice cream cushioned between two crumbly cocoa circles that may or may not be knock-off labeled Oreos. Whatever, it's China; we're used to it.

Is the ice cream on the icy side compared to others on our list? Yes. 

Is the Oreo a bit too squishy, resulting in no textural contrast? Yes. 

Would we repeat purchase it? Again and again, without question.


Mikaku (RMB35)

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This Japanese café is wanghong famous for its monster-size stack of soufflé tiramisu pancakes, ones we wrote about here.

The space is tiny, and it’s common to wait up to an hour for said dessert, but – without a doubt – it’s worth it every time. 

Aside from the pancakes, Mikaku does serve up some noteworthy desserts and equally inventive drinks. 

Yet, the Ice Cream Sandwich (RMB35) is not one of them. It's fairly run-of-the-mill compared to the edible inventions that make up the rest of the menu.

Both the ice cream and the bread are forgettable, and the extra sprinkle of powdered sugar is egregious, accentuating the already overly sugary ice cream. 

Diners can choose their own flavor of ice cream (vanilla, burnt caramel, fig, or osmanthus fermented rice) and wash it down with any of the cutesy coffee drinks on offer. We recommend the cinnamon latte. 

Mikaku, 20 Yunnan North Road, near Fengyang Road, 云南北路20号, 近凤阳路.

RAC II – Ice Cream Mini Buns (RMB65/2 pieces)

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Whisk away to the Mediterranean with RAC II's take on brioche con gelato, a Sicilian breakfast that we can totally get on board with.

For the Ice Cream Mini Buns (RMB65/2 pieces), choose between seasonal flavors like strawberry, salted caramel, rhum raisin, vanilla or yogurt and receive two of the richest, creamiest homemade scoops of ice cream found around town placed atop a plush, toasted brioche pocket.

The crisp inner edge adds the necessary contrast in mouthfeel, bringing to mind the naughtiest breakfast toast with cold (ice cream) ‘butter’ ever imagined. 

RAC II, 55 Shaanxi Nan Lu, by Huaihai Zhong Lu, 陕西南路55号, 近淮海中路.

Strictly Cookies – Ice Cream Sandwiches (RMB40)

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Whether you’ve lived in Shanghai for a year or 10, Strictly Cookies is the immediate choice that comes to mind for the ideal cookie, and for good reason too; owner Lexie Comstock started the company as a passion project, and it has evolved over time into so much more than that.

After the COVID madness, the brand was taken over by Spread The Bagel x CinnaSwirl, continuing to bring Shanghai's favorite cookie to the dessert-loving masses. 

The Ice Cream Sandwiches (RMB40) come in funky flavor combos, like our favorite, the Salted Butterscotch, made of vanilla ice cream smooshed between two superbly chewy cookies, and then rolled in butterscotch crunchies.

There's also a S'mores + Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich and a Brownie + Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich.

Although the ratio of cookie to cream skews more towards cookie (rightfully so when you make the best cookies in Shanghai), out of all of the ice cream sandwiches we tried, this is the one calling our name for a repeat purchase.

Every flavor is available for delivery through the Strictly Cookies WeChat store, and a few classic flavors are also available at the Mikkeller Tasting Room

Spread The Bagel x CinnaSwirl, 32 Yuyuan Dong Lu, by Changde Lu, 愚园东路32号, 近常德路.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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