Water ice: A treat that's hard to describe

Posted: July 07, 2011

"A cold slice of heaven."

That's how South Philly resident Mike Yampolski responded when asked to describe water ice during a recent visit to John's in South Philly.

That poetic phrase is immediately understood by those of us for whom the treat is a key ingredient in our culinary experience. But it doesn't seem particularly helpful in describing water ice to the unenlightened masses beyond the Delaware Valley's boundaries.

Water ice is easy to love, but explaining what it is to the unfamiliar is anything but simple. Most Philadelphians speak in terms of what it isn't when they try - no, it's not ice cream . . . or a snow cone . . .

"It's like a chopped Popsicle," offered Brooke White during a recent John's run. Her mom, Theresa added an appropriate, but still vague, "It's light and flavorful and chunky."

When Old City's Jennifer Mantiti finds herself talking water ice with the uninitiated, she defines it in terms of "the Italian ice you buy in the supermarket - but better, because it's not frozen solid."

Digging into a chocolate water ice - her first - Alyssa Zanone of Athens, Ga., called it "the perfect light refreshment for the summertime."

Nice. But still ducking the question - what IS it? Since it's neither water nor ice, after all.

According to Anthony Cardullo, the third-generation owner of John's Water Ice, his product is, simply, "all natural fruit juice, sugar and [frozen] water."

This sum-of-its-parts approach still doesn't do water ice justice, but coming from an authority on the subject, it's likely the best description we'll get for this unique frozen snack that is a much a part of summer in our little corner of the universe as the Phillies, Shore vacations and unbearable humidity.

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