I met the Cuban ice cream guy the same way he meets all his ladies: he called out to me when I was passing by. “Would you like to try some Cuban ice cream, without the promise to buy?” He was a smiling man in an apron, standing behind a row of coffee machines and freezers. Without the promise to buy? I guess I had a few minutes. He opened a freezer and emerged with a pale yellow dollop on a plastic spoon. “Helado de nata,” he announced. “People who try it don’t let it go.” He was right. The ice cream was creamy, mild. Fresh-tasting. Like homemade whipped cream. Since then I've continued to stop by his stand whenever I’m at Mercado Medellín -- it's located along the northern wall, near the hallway entrance to the fondas. His flavors are consistently good. And they aren't what everyone else carries: date and cranberry are on his long list, in addition to caramel, almond, raspberry and orange. It's fun to sit at the counter on a plastic stool and take in the scene. He likes to call out to couples strolling through the market. "Helados para los enamorados?" (Ice cream for the lovers?) Or to women walking alone, in a hurry: "Quiere probar los helados Cubanos, sin compromiso?" (Do you want to try Cuban ice cream, without promise to buy?) He talks to men, too. A lot of people stop. Finally, after months of knowing him only as the Cuban ice cream guy and recommending his stand that way to my friends, I stopped by last week for a malted milkshake and asked him his real name. My friend Martin came with me. Turns out his name is Eugenio Palmeiro Ríos. He's a cousin to Rafael. And guess what else? He used to be a chemical engineer in Cuba. Now it all makes sense. Only a chemical engineer could make ice cream this good.
Photo by Martin de la Torre
My malted milkshake, flavored with Colombian fruit I think called caruba