Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Buenos Aires Guide to Ice Cream

As September approaches, and the southern hemisphere winter turns to spring, Argentines walking the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities stop more often to enjoy an ice cream at their neighborhood heladería. Argentine ice cream dates from 1826 but, surprisingly, from the western city of Mendoza - at that time, Buenos Aires had no source of ice that would allow the production of ice cream, but muleteers could haul it down the western Andes, even if some of it melted en route.

Only later, in the 1840s, did ice cream begin to have an impact on Buenos Aires, as the first shipments of ice began to arrive from, of all places, the United States. Not until 1860 did the city have its own, locally produced ice to make frozen desserts and, with the massive Italian immigration of the late 19th century, it underwent a boom that has never subsided.

This is according to the new, very specialized guide to Heladerías de Buenos Aires (Ice Creameries of Buenos Aires), published by the municipal Ministerio de Cultura, which not only details the history of frozen treats in a city whose hot, humid summers have made it a staple of the diet. In 255 pages, with color photos, it also provides a thorough rundown of 32 landmark ice creameries around the city, plus a several-pages-long list of other deserving shops.

Not so long ago, though, many of those ice creameries were summer-only destinations. In 1984, when I spent my first winter living in the city’s Congreso district, a walk down nearby Avenida Corrientes found most of them shuttered for the season, and the ones that remained open were not the best of the bunch. Today, that’s changed greatly even though some remain open seasonally.

Several of my personal favorites figure in the book, including Belgrano’s Gruta, the Microcentro’s Vía Flaminia (Florida 121), and Congreso’s Sorrento (Avenida Rivadavia 2051) and Cadore. Cadore, in fact, has made a list of the world’s best ice creameries in the Madrid daily El País, which also included Monserrat’s Pastelería Olímpica (Avenida de Mayo 752), which I had never heard of, just a block from the iconic Café Tortoni.

El País’s list, though, is heavily Eurocentric - all the others it mentions are in Spain, France, and Italy. Still, between the Olímpica and the others depicted in the municipal guidebook, I’ll have plenty of pleasurable research to do on my next trip to Buenos Aires. It’s worth adding that the same series includes Pizzerías de Buenos Aires, as well as El Libro de los Libros (covering the city’s bookstores) and Calesitas de Buenos Aires (about merry-go-rounds). All of them are available in the bookstore at the city’s Casa de la Cultura (Avenida de Mayo 575).

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