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The (Ice Cream) Cone of Obliscence

With the onset of winter in the Northern Latitudes, the word over the wires was that ever more friends were planning southward excursions across the equator’s invisible borderline, chasing that then-most-distant season of summer. Mindful that they needed to pack lightly — only a few small steamer trunks, please — more than a few of these friends had chosen Buenos Aires as their destination. And in terms of food, their timing could not have been better.

Persicco.JPG

But listen: unlike the others, I won’t sit here prattling on about parilladas, organ meats, or that out-of-the-way steakhouse down a leafy side street that’s hit upon the perfect garlic proportion in its chimicurri. It’s the desserts that my taste-memory always returns to. When beseeched for advice by first-time travelers to that Paris of the South, I often parry with a single word: helado.

Just as European milk chocolate has no true analogue here in the States, Argentine ice cream is nothing like the North American variety to which we’re accustomed. (For chocolate, the innovators came up with their own

processes in Switzerland and Pennsylvania that were quickly copied, leading to the establishment of parallel — but sorely unequal — systems in Europe and the New World.)

So ice cream and helado are not the same thing, not close to equal, and nothing here in the North truly matches that Argentine concoction. The great influx of Italians to nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Buenos Aires led to a lot of culinary developments in Argentina — arguably the best was the adaptation of gelato to the Southern Continent, with innovators applying well-established techniques from the Old Country to purely New World flavors, like dulce de leche.

Friendly’s and Baskin-Robbins have not bothered establishing concessions anywhere within the Distrito federal de Buenos Aires. And why would they? With more excellent helado purveyors per square kilometer than any other city in the New World, these North American would-be arrivistes would find themselves sadly outclassed.

The city brandishes its gleaming, marble-lined heladerías like the highly polished gems they are. Freddo, Persicco, and Un Altra Volta are the most well known, with many outlets — and many excellent flavors — between them. But there are smaller chains, like Munchi’s, and many stand-alone helado hawkers as well.

When it came time to return to that shining city of memory last spring, the plan was simple: eat as much helado as possible — without feeling the effects of dairy intoxication, naturally. Steps were taken, all of them warranted, to make certain that excess dairy intake would be countered by the necessary enzymes to process it; an absolute necessity, in order for our expedition to consume the maximum amount of helado reasonably. After all, we did not know when we would be returning to the city of good airs and superlative frozen treats.

The members of our expedition sampled vigorously, and took meticulous notes on our findings (now all lost, tossed out along with the ice cream spoons and crumpled napkins), with several new discoveries in the process. Did we think that coconut swirled with dulce de leche would be quite as mind expanding as it in fact is? Perhaps not. Were we expecting mango sorbet to be quite so enticing? Well, no. Still, fitting for “the Paris of the South,” the classics were . . . the classics. As an ending to the trip, a cucurucho of dulce de leche casero con brownie and chocolate amargo from Persicco was . . . just . . . perfect.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 18, 2008 12:59 PM.

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