This week the weather is feeling distinctly tropical and Madrid´s best-known ice cream parlours are restoring our spirits with their refreshing array of pastel colours and fruity flavours.
Whenever I feel the sultry breezes calming the balmy heat it reminds me of a trip to the Fijan island in the film, Castaway a few years ago whilst en route to a trekking holiday in New Zealand. I was expecting to relax in a rustic hut on a deserted beach but to my surprise I ended up in a communal backpackers´ dormitory the size of an aeroplane hangar in the middle of a palm tree forest where the only respite from the extra ravenous local breed of mosquitos and the sweaty plastic-coated foam mattresses was to submerge myself periodically throughout the night in the 28-degree peacock sea.
During the day I managed to entertain myself with such games as “count the falling coconuts” or “who can get the brownest armpits”. In the evenings we were subjected to various Fijan harmonies sung by the chefs who then doubled up as bingo callers in which I won a coral necklace…narrowly missing out on the lottery jackpot I was hoping for so that I could upgrade to the aircon bungalow Tom Hanks might have enjoyed. Since the beer was overpriced and lukewarm I decided to settle for the local speciality, Kava, a delicious non-alcoholic narcotic liquid that tastes like mud and numbs all your muscles until you become fossilized in your hammock. Never let it be said that paradise is over-rated.
One item that wasn´t on offer was ice cream. Apparently our love affair with the silky smooth combination of this rich, sweet delicacy harks back to our yearning for the similar formula of fat and sugar found in breast milk. All this nutritious information makes it rather tempting to take a trip down to my farmer father in law´s milking parlour to see if I can reactivate my own diary production.
Ice cream dates back to biblical times where Nero was reported to have enjoyed iced drinks and later the Chinese mixed buffalo milk with rice and ice to produce their own creamy version. The Arabs also came up with their sherbet (sharabt) version, flavoured with cherries, pomegranates and quince. The first ice cream parlour was opened by a Sicilian in Paris in the 17th century and in the summer of 1790 George Washington reputedly spent 200USD in a bid to quench his craving for this iced delicacy.
During my childhood the gloopy trio of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry tubs bore little resemblance to the array of stiff artisanal ice creams crafted from premium ingredients. As we emerge from our cocooned confinement we can now discover the rainbow of options on offer in and around Madrid.
Heladeria Gioelia is on speed-dial with our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!
Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.
Malasaña is an ice cream hotspot and my favourites here include Popota, whose owner is a graduate from Bologna´s own ice cream university. I´m sure I´d qualify for a PhD in ice cream tasting by now. Look out for their lemon sorbet with lavender and kaffir lime leaves.
Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.