Imagine the best cone (or bowl, if you roll like that) of ice cream you’ve ever had. Now imagine how miraculous it would be if you could find it in Guangzhou.
For years, we’ve made do with 7-11’s artificially flavored frozen treats (we even wrote an article about them), sugary McFlurries and the occasional 10-dollar pint of imported Ben and Jerry’s. It hasn’t been easy, but then again, we’re not about to complain and be that foreigner at a bar who whines about China’s subpar ice cream options…
The arrival of Mado has changed everything. One bite of its creamy dondurma, or Turkish ice cream, and our long-held craving for legit bingqilin melted away.
If you’ve traveled to Europe or the Middle East, you’ve probably encountered the brand before, which now has nearly 300 franchise shops in 15 countries worldwide. But Mado was born of humble beginnings, founded in 1850 by Yaşar Kanbur as a family-owned ice cream parlor in Maraş, Turkey.
The latest Mado cafe to inhabit Taojin’s old Elephant & Castle is also the brand’s very first branch in China, giving us Guangzhouers something to brag about for a change.
If you didn't guess by the introduction, Mado is all about ice cream (though it also offers a huge variety of baked goods, brunch, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizza and pasta).
The ice cream recipe is unique given that it’s Turkish, and combines goat’s milk, sugar, salep (flour made from the root of wild orchids) and mastic (“a resin that imparts chewiness”) to create a stickier version of our favorite frozen dessert.
It’s so sticky that you can actually hang chunks of the stuff (at low temperatures) and carve it with a knife like you would Brazilian barbecue meat.
The consistency offers plenty of opportunities to tease guests as well, as servers stick a cone on the end of a hunk of viscous dondurma and playfully yank it away just as a customer reaches up to grab it.
Of the 24 flavors available, we sampled 10: plain, chocolate, sour cherry, raspberry, rice, lemon, mango, honey, coffee and coconut (vegan).
Dondurma is served in flat ‘layers’ – not scoops – and is priced at RMB18 for one layer, RMB36 for two and RMB58 for four (or one ‘portion’) at Mado. We advise you splurge on a full portion, which works out to roughly two scoops of ice cream by traditional measurements.
Surprisingly, the texture is almost identical to regular ice cream once you take a bite, maybe even creamier. Sweetened naturally with sugar from fruits and honey, every spoonful bursts with wholesome, fresh flavor. It melts quickly in the heat, so snap some photos and dig in.
The food is comparably underwhelming; we sampled the fresh herbs omelet (RMB45) made with spinach, parsley, purslane and ground black pepper, homemade su borek (cheese-filled filo dough, RMB30), fried eggs and potato (RMB42) and an almond chicken salad (RMB52).
Ingredients are visibly of high quality, but the overall presentation and flavor are nothing to write home about.
The menu is substantial, however, and there are plenty of authentic Turkish dishes to try, including simit (Turkish bagel) with cheese (RMB42), manti (Turkish ravioli) stuffed with minced meat and yogurt and kanafeh served with warm milk (RMB52) or baklava (RMB48 and up) for dessert.
If you go, try also a glass of homemade lemonade with mint leaves and green apple (RMB22), another of Mado's signature offerings and some of the best we’ve tasted anywhere in the world to date.
There’s a reason it took so long for Mado to finish renovations: the three-floor interior, bakery and outdoor patio are entirely new – and beautiful. Inside, colorful displays around the ice cream counter instill a kind of kid-in-a-candy-shop excitement.
And the bright courtyard, with hanging plants and a pergola canopy, transports guests far, far away from the drabness of Taojin.
It’s a classic place, and one we expect will succeed here – at least in answering our desperate screams for ice cream.
Who’s going: anyone who likes ice cream, those who know the Mado brand
Good for: delicious dondurma, Turkish baked goods
Nearest metro: Taojin (Exit B), 2 minutes
Open daily, 8am-midnight; see listing for Mado.
[Photos by Jocelyn Richards]