by Sally Kay

South America is not known for its ice cream. As somewhat of a connoisseur (okay, addict) of ice cream, when I set out for Argentina I resigned myself to a time without one of my favorite foods. To my surprise and delight I had barely crossed the border from Chile to Argentina when I found my fears had been completely unjustified. I was in South America’s ice cream Mecca.

Italian immigrant roots run deep in Argentine culture: lilting accents, passionate music and of course the food. With a pizzeria restaurant every second corner, stores to buy fresh pasta, and the ubiquitous use of garlic, cuisine is only a generation removed from Italy. Nowhere is this parallel more evident than in the country’s love of helado, Argentina’s answer to gelato.

Many people translate helado as ice cream when in fact it is really a different dessert entirely. It is sort of a hybrid of Italian gelato and ice cream from the United States. Argentine helado has a slightly firmer consistency than US soft serve and a creamy rich texture that is as smooth as the finest silk. Enough to tempt the harshest of critics, the intense flavors are what really make Argentine helado so tantalizing that it may qualify as an addictive substance.

In Argentina helado isn’t just a dessert, it is an institution. Most Argentines will tell you their helado is the best in the world, and I would have to agree. Every few blocks there is a heladaria, or ice cream parlor. And the portions are enough to boggle the mind. Cones are heaping servings two or three times as large as the average cone in the United States and put Europe’s tiny servings to shame. It is normal to buy a kilo, and just eat it right away. But the helado is so good, it is hard to stop.

You can literally subsist on helado in Argentina. There seems to be a shop open any time day or night. If you happen to be craving a rich creamy kilo of the stuff at 1:00 am, you are sure to find a heladaria open to satisfy your sweet tooth. And you don’t even have to leave your apartment! Yes, the stores actually deliver! When you are home watching a movie and realize you don’t have dessert this can be an extremely handy thing.

My top five favorite Argentina heladarias:

Heladerías Esther – Rosario, Argentina
Rosario is one of the largest cities in Argentina and unquestionably the country’s ice cream capital. The city is often hailed as having the best ice cream in Argentina and in this city of ice cream, Esther is a head and shoulders above the rest. It is almost worth buying a plane ticket to Rosario just to get helado at Esther. The decadent flavors, luxurious texture, and quality of ingredients are unparalleled. If the mark of good ice cream is the ability to make even the plainest vanilla or chocolate stand out than Esther meets and exceeds expectations. To make things even better one of their stores is actually open until 3:00 am.

Jauja – El Bolson, Argentina
For a slightly more unusual ice cream experience, Jauja, with locations in El Bolsón and Bariloche is definitely worth a visit. Though not in a region of the country that produces many cows, what this heladaria lacks in richness it makes up for in creativity. With flavors like cardamom, candied ginger, dulce de leche with mulberries, and many more unique flavors, Jauja is definitely worth a trip out of your way.

Persicco – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires has quite a few heladarias, but Persico is definitely one of my favorites. Ordering a kilo of helado you get two flavors and they even throw in a sample of a new variety they have concocted. The delectable flavors are a veritable explosion of flavor in your mouth. As always my favorites are chocolate amargo (dark chocolate) and super sambayon, (an ice cream version of an Italian dessert using eggs, Marsala wine, and sugar) but Persico makes even the simplest flavors a delight.

Ferruccio Soppelsa Helados – Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza is a town of wine, but it also has its fair share of heladarias and Ferruccio Soppelsa is one of the best. In keeping Mendoza’s reputation this ice cream parlor features creative wine-infused flavors like Vanilla and Malbec or Peach with Syrah.

Cones Ice Cream Artisans New York City, United States – 272 Bleecker St New York, NY
Just in case you can’t make it as far South as Argentina there is hope for you to get your helado fix in New York City!
When I made it back to New York I was craving helado. Low and behold I found my fix in the West Village at Cones. Run by several friendly Porteños (Buenos Aires locals) this little shop has honest to goodness Argentine helado. Their sambayon and chocolate are truly divine and the also serve unusual flavors such as corn or mate (a sort of green tea).

Sally is a seasoned world traveler. Right after graduating from the University of Kansas school of Journalism she hit the road and hasn’t looked back. She has explored Europe, Africa, South America, and North America, lived in Slovakia, Hungary and Argentina and is currently traveling in South America. Sally enjoys travel, adventures, writing, nature, learning, and experiencing all that the world has to offer. She writes about her adventures in her blog and is a travel guru for the website Tripeezy LLC.