Helado helado! This is the cry of the micro (city bus) ice cream sellers in Santiago, Chile. They carry a nested set of boxes with traditional Chilean popsicles. They’re cheap, and not particularly delicious, but can save you in a pinch. But how can it be that this city of six million people can’t go a simple bus ride without an ice cream in hand? In Santiago we are, in a word, obsessed with ice cream.
Hold your bus-popsicles though, and go gourmet, with traditional Chilean flavors that translate into creamy, refreshing cones and cups all over the city in any season.
In my exploration of several gourmet ice cream shops in Santiago, I’ve broken out the categories of Chilean-flavored ice cream into three different subsets, traditional flavors, combos and sabores novedosos. For traditional, there are single flavors known and loved by Chileans, made into ice cream. Here are cherimoya, (custard apple), manjar (dulce de leche), lúcuma (eggfruit, a taste not dissimilar to sweet potato and maple syrup), or newly, maqui, which is a wild berry native to the south of Chile. These ice creams, which may be water or milk-based, translate the flavor of the fruit or food product into ice cream form.
Then there are the combo flavors, that take a food that’s been altered, like harina tostada, which is a toasted flour that people sprinkle on watermelon and in the south, sometimes eat in a sweet breakfast reminiscent of farina called ulpo. Or an ice cream made from carménère, the wine grape that was rediscovered in Chile after phylloxera wiped it out in France. Another wine-flavored ice cream is the water based mint-cucumber-sauvignon blanc, which has had the alcohol cooked out. As has the occasional pisco sour ice cream that you can find from time to time, or even cola de mono, our Bailey’s Irish Cream-like Christmastime drink here in Chile.
Then there’s the sabores novedosos. Here the ice creameries have taken a risk, taking the essence of a known flavor, like pan de Pascua (Christmas cake, not dissimilar to a molasses-laden fruitcake), and made it into ice cream. Or sopaipillas pasadas, Chile’s rainy day treat of fried disks of squash-enriched dough dunked into a syrup made from solid chancaca sugar, or there’s also plátano con miel de palma, banana flavored ice cream enriched with sugar palm syrup. Or peras al vino, a mildly pear-flavored ice cream with wine syrup dribbled down it as it’s served.
Here are some of my favorite heladerías, from west to east, downtown to uptown:
This pizza and ice cream place in Bellas Artes has some of the most creative ice creams on the market, with homegrown recipes. One time the scooper there encouraged me to try watermelon and harina tostada together, reminiscent of that summertime treat eaten around the country. They have room for only nine flavors at a time, including occasionally sopaipillas pasadas and platano con miel de palma, the latter of which reminded a Chilena friend of mine of a favorite dessert she’d rush through dinner for to get to as a child.
This ice cream is not only available at Patio Bellavista, but this popular shop is probably the busiest that sells Il Maestrale ice cream. They have flavors such as the aforementioned mint-cucumber-sauvignon blanc, and the best version of pan de Pascua ice cream I tried. They also have Chilean favorites like miel de ulmo (honey with a concentration of pollen from the local ulmo tree) and plátano manjar (banana and dulce de leche) though they tell me their biggest seller is chocolate.
The name Zenzero, as well as the idea for all-natural ice creams came to the owners on a trip to Bali. Maqui shows up here, as does lúcuma and other all-Chilean flavors. They sell many sugar-free and dairy-free ice creams, the creaminess coming from a vegan pea starch. They are located in malls, like metro-accessible Costanera Center.
These mas cremoso imposible (impossible to be creamier) ice creams are the brainchild of Belgian chef Mathieu Michel. You can find them at El Toldo Azúl in the narrow storefront attached to the high end Interdesign store. Sebastián Núñez is the partial owner of both, and you can sometimes find him scooping ice cream in the shop as well. Ice creams at El Toldo Azul run from the mild avocado to the racier cantaloupe with arrope de chañar, a smoky sweet syrup made from the fruit of the Chilean palo verde tree, to peras al vino, as well as carménère. They also do brisk business in chocolate, with three different varieties topping out at over 80% Venezuelan chocolate.
Other honorable mentions with Chilean flavors include:
Emporio La Rosa, which has a shop in Valparaíso as well.