What is it that makes the perfect scoop of ice cream? Is it the texture, creamy but not buttery, rich but not heavy? Perhaps it’s the flavor, intense and identifiable without tasting artificial? Or maybe it is the philosophy behind it, organic ingredients blended locally each day?
This is a conundrum that has been plaguing my weekly visits to the cool oasis of the best ice cream shops in Madrid. We’ve breached the 100-degree mark here for a week straight and the only way I’ve found to survive this sparsely air conditioned city is to indulge in copious amounts of ice cream. But I’m terribly torn. Two positively superb heladerias in Madrid are battling for for the No.1 spot in my ice cream-obsessed heart: Kalúa at the north end of Calle Fuencarral and Mistura in the Chueca barrio.
One serves perhaps the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. The other scoops and mixes customizable blends. The first is always busy and never friendly. The second is cozy and intimate with all-natural ice cream and a staff of welcoming bearded hipsters.
My internal battle for the best ice cream in Madrid is battle of flavors but it is also a battle of beliefs. Which is more important, ice cream I believe in or ice cream my tastebuds believe in?
To earn the title of best ice cream in Madrid the heladeria should, in my opinion, have more than just a tasty product. I want to know that my tasty frozen treat is free of additives and preservatives. I would love to see that the sorbets are made with fresh organic fruits and the creamy flavors are produced with farm fresh milk. I enjoy when the person serving my ice cream smiles or asks how my day is going. I love when they recommend their favorite flavors.
Those are the things I love about Mistura. And the things I find glaringly lacking at Kalúa.
But at the end of the day we are talking about ice cream. And while that five minute interaction inside the shop is important, I walked those 4 blocks in the sweltering 106-degree sun for the ice cream. What’s inside the cup is where Kalúa shines.
Beneath Kalúa’s giant wraparound glass counters dozens of inciting flavors are piled half a foot higher than their metal cooling containers. Nutella, Café Arabica, Ferrero Rocher, Chocolate Mousse, Kinder Bueno, Turrón… I want them all! For 2.80€ I can get a small cup with two flavors, one filling the dish and one towering like a title wave on top.
Don’t get me wrong, Mistura makes some damn good ice cream (their coffee ice cream is one of the best I’ve found). But the flavors at Kalúa are otherworldly. A scoop of Kalúa’s Nutella ice cream is loaded with thick streaks of Nutella. In the Ferrero Rocher it’s obvious that a generous dose of whole bon bons were sacrificed in the making of this rich, crunchy flavor. It’s not health food and doesn’t pretend to be. This is indulgent, rich, creamy, flavor-packed, mind-blowingly delicious ice cream.
But it doesn’t go any farther than that. The folks serving ice cream at Kalúa may well be selling scrap metal. They are almost always busy and don’t have (nor take) time to add that personal touch. It’s a well-oiled machine to get you in and out with a stellar scoop (or two or three…) as fast as possible.
You want to sample a flavor? Vaya… if you really have to. You want a recommendation? They’re all good… choose already. You want five minutes to talk with one of the owners about what goes into making their amazing ice creams? Come back three times and we’ll send you away anyway… he’s busy. Welcoming is not a word I would use to describe Kalúa.
I have been an ice cream enthusiast since before I was old enough to hold my own cone. Shaky home videos show a 4-year-old me coercing my parents into one little scoop before dinner. A chubster with black, bowl-cut hair bobs in and out of the frame employing every technique known to toddlerdom, from attempted logic (I promise I’ll still eat my stroganoff!) to lamentable fake sobs.
The bowl cut may have grown out but my ice cream obsession never will.
As Madrid doesn’t seem to be getting any cooler this summer, I predict there will be rather illogical amounts of ice cream eating in my near future. Perhaps another dozen or so trips to each heladeria will help solve my dilemma…
Which heladeria would you choose? Mistura or Kalúa?