In 1897, 16-year-old Rosalía Suarez carried ice from Mt. Imbabura to her home in Ibarra in northern Ecuador. In a large copper pail, she mixed tropical fruit juices with the ice, inventing “helados de paila,” or copper-pail sherbet. Nearly 115 years later, Rosalía’s ice cream shop is still using the original recipe: ice, sugar, and fruit (no milk) mixed together with a large wooden paddle in a paila lined with thatch. Flavors include coconut, banana, mango, vanilla, chocolate, mora, guanabana, fruitilla, naranjilla, ovo, taxo and maracuyá.
In Cuenca, ice cream doesn’t have quite such an illustrious past, but it’s no less popular and some of Rosalía’s production methods are still in use. For evidence, you need only queue up behind Ecuadorians and expats alike at Mixx, the world-class heladería that opened a few months ago with a great location on Plaza de San Blas (a half-block north of Mariscal Sucre just off Tomás Ordoñes, open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.), state-of-the-art equipment, and flavors limited only by the raging imagination of the Canadian proprietor, Tom Carbone.
Tom sold a successful aquarium business in Toronto, then spent four years traveling the world for his ice-cream education: the U.S., Italy, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. He adopted the best of the international traditions to create the unique mix that’s now available at Mixx.
Tom makes more than 50 flavors fresh every day in a cramped back room, where machines churn and chill cream, combine the cream and fruit, then deep freeze the ice cream to lock in the flavors and kill the bacteria. Tom produces 100 liters of ice cream every day, sometimes working till four in the morning to keep his display cases supplied. He sells a minimum of 600 fresh-made cones in a 12-hour shift; on a busy weekend, that number can double.
The flavors keep the patrons lined up out the door. For example, the sangria is made with wine and fruit; the beer, rum, tequila, whiskey, and tiramisu ice creams are all made with alcohol and fruit, no milk. Then there's Red Bull and 220 energy-drink flavors, and double Chocolate Mexicana with a chile finish; it tastes like chocolate Red Hots. The Panettone is reminiscent of a Christmas fruit cake. A couple of chicles taste like gum.
Chocolates, coffees, and fruit (such as lemon, apple, passion, strawberry, mora, cherimoya, naranjilla, and kiwi) are also well-represented. Nuts available usually include pistachio, almonds, and peanuts. Tom also mixes up a few sorbets, such astamarindo, mora, and strawberry.
Then come the aderezos (toppings), stored in jars that line the length of the counters and cases: Snickers, Kit Kats, bon bons, M&Ms, Nerds, gumdrops, and local favorites like Gulpe and Manícho. Chocolate-chip cookies, Oreos, vanilla wafers, nuts, granola, and gorp can all be mixed into the ice cream on the marble slab at the front counter. Of course, there are also a couple dozen kinds of syrups.
The prices are right. Single cones range from 50 cents to $1.25, doubles 90 cents to $2.25, and the giant exclusivo is $3. Add a quarter or so per aderezo and for whipped cream.
San Blas Plaza also hosts one of several TuttoFreddo ice-cream parlors around Cuenca, including the big two-story restaurant right on Parque Calderón, one of the few major restaurants in El Centro open on Sundays and holidays (a smaller TuttoFreddo’s is located directly across the street).
The TuttoFreddos serve 20 or so flavors of ice cream, from $1 centavos for a cone with one aderezo (topping) up to $3.50 for a banana split. More than a dozen sundaes come in all combinations, such as brownie, Oreo, and strawberries and cream, in the $2.25 to $3.25 range. Coffee drinks, milkshakes, and granizados (ice and syrup, a cross between a sno-cone and a Slushee) cost $1.25-$1.50.
Breakfasts include the Americano (with eggs) for $3; add ham or bacon for $4.10. Sandwiches such as jamón y queso, mixto, pollo, and the signature TuttoFreddo (ham, cheese, salami, and pepperoni) range from $2.20 to $3.75. You can also order dinner and dessert crepes, pizza, lasagna, and cannelloni, all in the $4-$5 range.
Frutilado is an ice-cream parlor with three Cuenca locations: on the opposite side of Parque Calderón from TuttoFreddo, on Remigio Crespo, and a small counter at the Mall del Rio. It’s similar to TuttoFreddo, serving two dozen flavors of ice cream in cups, cones, and sundaes; all the usual coffee concoctions, milkshakes, and frozen yogurt; plus crepes (try the Leblon, with shrimp in a cheesy cream sauce with quacamole), all at prices competitive with TuttoFreddo.
But Frutilado also features 10 different fresh juices); a number of different waffles with a variety of toppings (fruit, bananas, strawberries, ice cream) in the $4.75 range; empanadas ($1.50-$2.50); a dozen different bocaditos(small cookies); and whole cakes for $18.95 (slices for $1.60).
In addition, the signature “frutilado” is the traditional granizado; what Frutilado calls a granizado is served with chunks of ice, cream, flavoring, and a bit of fruit (80 centavos for a small, $1.10 for the grande).
Smaller, trendier, and catering to the students at the University of Cuenca directly across the street is Choco y Cream, located in La Esquina des Artes. Also a full-service ice-cream parlor and restaurant, though it has fewer flavors and not nearly as many sundaes and helado concoctions as TuttoFreddoor Frutilado. The monolingual menu, however, is a good lesson in aderezos: Oreos, chispas chocolate y de colores (sprinkles), nuez (nuts), maní (peanuts), cerezas (cherries), derretidos (syrups), and more.
Coco y Cream also serves alfajores (60 cents), a traditional Arabic confection made in a cylindrical shape with flour, honey, nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, and spices like aniseed, sesame, coriander, cloves, and cinnamon.
Coffees ($1.25-$2.50), milkshakes ($1.80-$2.25), and granizados ($1) round out the beverage choices, while ensaladas ($3.50), empanadas ($2), typical sandwiches ($2-$4), rollos ($3-$4), lasagnas ($3.50), and pies and cheesecakes ($2) fill out Coco y Cream’s menu.
Photo caption: Tutto Freddo on Parque Calderon is one Cuenca´s most popular ice cream shops.