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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mediano o grande? An ice cream tour of Mexico City


Historic newspaper clippings and famous customers’ photos at La Especial de Paris, an ice cream parlor that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021, in Mexico City on Sept. 16, 2023.

By Nili Blanck


Mexico does not have a long history with ice cream. The country’s first versions of the dessert were akin to snow cones, made from ice that was harvested from the summits of the country’s volcanoes and transported via donkeys and mules to urban areas. With a dash of salt and fruit mixed in, these “raspados” (literally, shavings) or “nieves” (snow), were prepared in flavors like lime and guava and were sold out of pushcarts along streets, just as they are today.


That changed roughly 80 years ago, when locals no longer needed to rely on these troves for their ice supply. With the advent of the refrigerator, ice cream shops started to blossom throughout Mexico City. Today, you can teleport from the capital city’s present into its past by visiting both of-the-moment ice cream parlors that are branching away from traditional flavors and shops from the last century that remain practically untouched by the hand of time. Here are five spots to hit on an ice cream tour of the city.



Cometa


“I’ve always been thinking about ice cream,” Julia Ortiz Monasterio said about the origins of Cometa, the artisanal ice cream shop she opened five years ago in the Roma neighborhood. Using almost exclusively local ingredients (down to the sugar), Cometa specializes in making quintessentially Mexican flavors that are not typically used for ice cream.

A September specialty, the baby blue-hued maize flavor — made to celebrate Cometa’s anniversary as well as Mexican Independence Day — has garnered somewhat of a cult following, with customers from across town making annual buying trips. Equally appetizing as it is curious is sweet potato, which is inspired by the city’s traveling food carts that sell roasted yams, and whose loud whistle has become one of the capital’s most recognizable sounds. Made from both orange and purple potatoes, the ice cream is a cosmic two-toned concoction with a sweet base that’s provided by a strong splash of caramelized milk. Then there’s a prickly pear (tuna in Spanish) variation, an explosion of cream and magenta that derives its beautiful colors from the bright pink cactus flower from which it is made.

“It’s so much more interesting to me to show people that you can make ice cream with ingredients they don’t expect,” Ortiz Monasterio said from her tiny shop inside an exquisite late-19th-century mansion. It’s also her way of taking advantage of the flavors that make Mexican culture so particularly rich. Seventy pesos, (about $4) for a single scoop; 105 pesos (about $6) for a double. (Colima 162, Roma Norte)



Heladería Casa Morgana


Like Cometa, Casa Morgana is part of a new crop of highly modern confectioners whose signature, nontraditional flavors have garnered acclaim in an ice cream scene that, until recently, was dominated by conventional European ingredients. A 10-foot-by-10-foot storefront, Casa Morgana is demarcated by a bright blue facade in the Juárez neighborhood, an eclectic area that once housed Mexico City’s aristocratic quarter.

Family-run Casa Morgana’s seasonal, farm-to-cone flavors are made with no artificial colorants, no vegetable fats and no preservatives. Kirén Miret, the owner, is committed to following a strict process she learned from a gelato master in the Piedmont region of Italy that involves slowly churning the milk and sugar in a special Italian machine she calls a “Ferrari” — she had to sell her car to afford it — which is responsible for its silky texture. Although they prepare more than 220 flavors annually, eight are available on a weekly basis; look out for some of their most beloved varieties, which include cinnamon roll, pumpkin and pan de muerto in October and November for Day of the Dead. Single scoops range from 53 pesos to 65 pesos depending on flavor. (Milán 36, Colonia Juárez)



Chiandoni


Ice cream in Mexico underwent a paradigm shift in the 1950s as ice became readily available, and as Italian immigrants settled in the metropolis. The best example is Chiandoni (pronounced KEY-andoni), an ice-cream parlor that is a time capsule to 1957, when Pietro Chiandoni, an Italian boxer who immigrated to Mexico, first opened its iconic crystal doors.

Aptly found in the Nápoles neighborhood, Chiandoni is the definition of old-school, and thanks to the intact glassware, checkerboard floor, soda machines and — most importantly — unchanged family recipes, it continues to be as much an exercise in nostalgia as it is a gustatory delight. Its best-known treats are equally vintage-feeling, like the super soft banana ice cream (45 pesos for a single) — widely considered the best in the city — the vanilla milkshake (40 pesos), and the “Chiandoni souvenir,” with a layer of wine cake at the bottom topped with mameya, a tropical fruit native to the region, and vanilla ice creams and hazelnuts; 44 pesos for a slice. (Calle Pennsylvania 255, Nápoles)



Nevería Roxy


The original Nevería Roxy in Condesa, whose retro teal awnings immediately transport visitors to 1946 when it first opened, still operates on Avenida Tamaulipas (although there are nine others now). With a perennial line that curls out the front door, Roxy is where Mexico City residents, their parents and their grandparents likely all had their first dates.

Opened by a husband-and-wife team, the shop has walls plastered with newspaper cuttings full of accolades and photos of celebrity patrons. In addition to fruit flavors (try mamey), which are made from fresh fruits carefully selected at the Mercado de la Merced as they were 70 years ago (46 pesos for a medium scoop, 56 pesos for a large scoop), Roxy’s specialties include the banana split, the “arlequín,” a mishmash of flavors served in a glass, and the Roxy special, a three-scoop delight made with chocolate, strawberry and coconut, all 89 pesos. (Avenida Tamaulipas 161, Hipódromo Condesa)



La Especial de Paris


Chiandoni and Roxy aren’t even CDMX’s oldest ice cream parlors. In a palm-size, hole in the wall in the historic downtown is La Especial de Paris, a local legend that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021. La Especial has been passed down over four generations of fathers and sons and has grown from a cart that sold vanilla ice cream and lime snow cones to a purveyor of more than 22 flavors at any given time.

It’s a place where time has stood still, where visitors feel like nothing has changed since it was name-dropped in famous Mexican novels and frequented by presidents and celebrities alike. It’s also one of the few shops that sells authentic vanilla ice cream made from natural vanilla. If you look closely, you’re likely to see a few vanilla seeds in your scoops. For those who want to take a walk on the wilder side, La Especial de Paris also sells flavors as exotic as tabaco (tobacco), goat cheese with raisins dipped in Cognac, and olive oil. A scoop is 36 pesos. (Insurgentes Centro 117, Colonia San Rafael)

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