Momo Gelato dishes out the darkest chocolate ice cream in Rio

Last month, K and I stuck to tradition and headed down to Rio de Janeiro for a long weekend of sunshine and beach time. This was a special year, however, since my little sister Carolyn and her boyfriend joined us. The two of them spent a full week in Brazil, spending several days in Búzios before driving to Rio to meet up with us. This was a special occasion – the first-time Carolyn and I have been together outside of the United States!

While our trip only lasted three days, we packed in a whole lot of fun! Since the weather was fantastic, we spent many hours lying in beach chairs on Copacabana Beach, enjoying the array of snacks carried by the many beach vendors and sipping coconut water and caipirinhas. Carolyn and I share a love of swimming, and it felt very special to splash around in the waves together like little kids. Vacation heaven.

We also discovered some new places and activities with Carolyn and her boyfriend. Thanks to Carolyn’s cravings for nutritious lunches, we discovered the deliciously hip, gluten-free fast food shop Jaeé (shout-out Fred, the owner, who was very hospitable). And on Saturday, the four of us rented bicycles from the Sheraton and rode along the beach all the way to Leme and back. Rio is known for being one of the best cities in the world for biking, so I’m not sure why K and I waited so long to try it!

On our last night in Rio, we enjoyed a special dinner at Zuka in Leblon. We agreed that while Zuka is a bit expensive, the staff was incredible (despite a language barrier) and the food was fresh and flavorful. Nothing on the dessert menu spoke to us, however. Lucky for me, one of Rio’s most popular gelaterias is located just a few doors down from Zuka…

Momo Gelato Artesanal is a well-known gelato shop in Rio de Janeiro, churning out Italian-style gelatos and sorbettos in dozens of flavors. They have two locations, but the Leblon one seems to be the original. Momo was very busy on this Saturday evening, with its storefront open to the street and people milling around with cones and cups of delicious-looking ice cream. Momo also offers sweet waffle sundaes. Not waffle cones, but actual waffles!

I thought Momo’s yellow and brown color scheme was surprisingly attractive. Like any uber-popular artisan ice cream shop, Momo sells a variety of shirts, hats, bags and other branded paraphernalia. But the focus of the store is clearly on the long cases of gelato pans. I counted at least two dozen different flavors, including nearly 10 sorbetto flavors. The flavors were posted in Portuguese, but a major advantage of gelaterias is that the gelatos are often are covered in toppings or decorations that identify the flavors. For example, you’ll see hazelnuts and chocolate over Gianduia, crushed pistachio nuts over Pistacchio Siciliano, and coffee beans over Cappuccino. While Momo serves these usual Italian staples among others (like Stracciatella, Pear, and Limoncello), the local flavors that jumped out to me were Caramelo com Flor de Sal (salted caramel), Banana com Canela (banana with cinnamon), and Pão com Nutella (bread with Nutella).

Momo’s serving sizes didn’t look very large, so I decided to order a three-scoop cup. I was immediately drawn to a black-looking chocolate, Neromomo, which the signage noted was 73% cocoa. The color was just so dark and interesting that I had to give it a shot! To cut the chocolate, I also ordered a scoop of simple Cremomo (sweet cream). And in the spirit of “When in Rome Rio,” I rounded out my cup with a Amazônia (açai + tapioca). I call this “Grace’s antioxidant special.” This cup set me back around R $15.00, or around five U.S. dollars, which is quite expensive for Rio!

Top left: Amazônia, Right: Cremomo, Bottom: Neromomo

The verdict? I may have finally met my chocolate limit! The Neromomo, Momo’s dark chocolate gelato was incredibly rich and powerful, and not very sweet. I can’t remember ever having a chocolate ice cream quite this dark. While I enjoyed it, this flavor was a bit much for me. It was a good thing that the sweet, milky Cremomo helped cut the overwhelming dark chocolate taste. Sadly, the Amazônia wasn’t as yummy as the açai bowls we had on the beach. The gelato was a bit icy and the flavor of açai wasn’t very pronounced, but I did like the little bits of granola! While I wasn’t “wowed” by these three flavors, I enjoyed the ambiance of Momo Gelato and would happily give it another try!

The Stats:
Momo Gelato Artesanal (multiple locations)
Rua Dias Ferreira, 147
Leblon, Rio de Janiero 22431-050
http://momogelato.com.br

“Self-Service” Ice Cream in Rio de Janeiro

This Presidents’ Day weekend, K and I embarked on a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro. Between a pre-trip bout of food poisoning and the Zika situation in Brazil, I can’t say I was entirely thrilled to head down there this year. But K successfully ushered me onto the plane, armed with lemon-lime Gatorade and some potent bug spray.

IMG_9438Despite low expectations this year, we had a really nice weekend! We spent about 80% of our waking hours on the beach covered in 50 SPF. It was incredibly hot and sunny, so frozen treats and drinks were a must. While I ate plenty of frozen açaí (more on that in the next post) and drank, I couldn’t let a whole weekend pass without getting ice cream. So between the beach and heading back to our hotel to shower on Sunday, K called up an UberX (yes, Uber is available – and cheap – in Rio!) to bring me to Sorvetes Ally in the Copacabana neighborhood. We’d spotted the shop on Friday after dinner, when we were both too stuffed to consider eating anything more. This time, I brought my appetite!

IMG_9498Sorvetes Ally is the first self-serve ice cream shop I’ve stumbled across. Nearly every city in America has a self-serve frozen yogurt place or two, but the concept hasn’t extended to traditional ice cream or gelato shops. Perhaps hygiene has something to do with this? Hard ice cream and gelato requires scooping from tubs, and it must be fairly easy to spread germs via scoops and standing (or coughing/sneezing) over open tubs. Still, I wasn’t too horrified with the concept when I saw how relatively clean and well-staffed Sorvetes Ally was.

IMG_9499IMG_9500The secret must be out, because Sorvetes Ally was hopping on a Sunday afternoon. We had to stand in line for a minute or two, which gave me a chance to take in the surroundings and observe the self-serve experts ahead of me in action. But then the hard part: deciding what flavor to try! Sorvetes Ally has more than 20 options to choose from, and there is no menu. I had to scan all the little signs attached to the tubs.

IMG_9502 IMG_9503I must have looked a bit lost, because the young woman in front of me kindly pointed out Ovomaltine and gave me a smile and the universal “thumbs up” sign. I recognized it as the Swiss brand of malted chocolate. While I’m not the biggest fan of malted flavors, I had to try it after the recommendation! The only flavor that caught K’s eye was Queijo com Goiabada (Cheese & Guava Paste), so I scooped some of that into my cup, too. I was very skeptical, though, given my last experience with cheese ice cream. With room to spare, I added two other interesting-sounding flavors: Tapioca and Ameixa (Plum). When its executed well, I adore tapioca ice cream!

IMG_9501Like self-serve froyo places in the U.S., Sorvetes Ally charges by weight. I forget how many ounces my cup was, but it cost me the equivalent of around $2 USD. Not bad!

IMG_9504

Clockwise from top: Tapioca, Ovomaltine, Amiexa (Hidden: Quejo com Goiabada)

The verdict? I had nearly as much fun trying all the different flavors as I did scooping them! We both enjoyed tasting multiple flavors and having control over the size of each scoop. The only downside was that we rushed to finish before the ice cream melted into mush. I don’t think the constant opening of the ice cream freezers — and the waits between scooping — did anything to maintain the ice cream’s temperature. The surprise standout was the Ameixa, which featured plenty of little soft plum pieces and a deep sophisticated flavor. I loved the dark color and subtle sweetness of this flavor. Sorvetes Ally’s Tapioca lived up to our high expectations; rich cream-flavored ice cream chock full of soft-yet-chewy tapioca pearls. I must figure out how to recreate this one at home! The Ovomaltine did indeed taste of malted chocolate, and the level of malt was pleasant. K was happy with the Queijo com Goiabada, which he thought was a nice blend of sweet and savory. I took one nibble and just couldn’t get over the actual chunks of cheese in my ice cream. I should probably just give up on cheese ice cream in Brazil. Who am I kidding? I’m sure K will talk me into it again next time 🙂

While the “self-service” ice cream concept is a bit gimmicky (and a germophobe’s nightmare), Sorvetes Ally executes it well with their wide variety of ice-cream flavors and toppings.

The Stats:
Sorvetes Ally
Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, 435
Rio de Janeiro RJ 22020-002
+55 21 2236-3540
http://sorvetesally.com.br/

Dozens of Brazilian Flavors at Mil Frutas

Winter in DC has been rough. Not so much for me (I’d take extreme cold over extreme heat any day) but for K. He’s an avid runner but loathes the treadmill with passion. Thus, he continues to run outside when he’s in DC — coming back with a ruby-red nose and shirts frozen with sweat. Needless to say, K was eagerly awaiting our Presidents Day trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Like last time, K and I stayed at the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort (thank you, hotel points!). And once again, we spent our days lounging by the hotel pool or down along the popular beaches of Leblón and Ipanema. We both drank more than our fair share of fresh coconut water and cold caipirinhas — two of my favorite Brazilian specialties.

While it can be difficult to eat healthily on vacation, the entire city of Rio de Janeiro seems to focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles. You don’t see much fried food around, but it’s easy to spot fresh fruits and vegetables on restaurant menus and in little corner markets. Thus, K and I are able to balance fun vacation indulgences with some fresh produce and super-foods. On Saturday, for example, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Zazá Bistrõ Tropical in the Ipanema neighborhood. Seated on the restaurant’s romantic outside patio, we savored crunchy cassava chips with wasabi mousse, grilled fish, smoked steak and plenty of grilled vegetables. So needless to say, we didn’t leave feeling hungry. But that didn’t stop K from suggesting an ice-cream stop.

Just another reason I love the guy 😉

In my ice-cream research before Rio, Mil Frutas popped up time and time again. Mil Frutas has many locations around the city, and the ice cream receives some glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. K checked his iPhone and lo and behold, there was a shop several blocks away from us!

After an enjoyable stroll down the street, we spotted the well-lit storefront.

I was excited to see just how long the menu is at Mil Frutas. In fact, they might offer more ice-cream flavors than any other place I’ve been to?

Mil Frutas loosely divides their ice creams into several categories, including “sabores de frutas” (fruit flavors) and “sabores cremosos” (creamy flavors). There are also several “sabores light”, but who cares about the diet ice cream flavors? Not me!

I tested K’s patience by studying the menu for far longer than necessary. Not only was I trying to loosely translate the flavors from Portuguese to English, but I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for…

Some of the local Brazilian flavors such as Coco, Açaí, and Tapioca sounded delicious. And while I nearly picked Tapioca, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the amazing version I had at Sorvete Itália during my last trip. Other flavors that caught my eye included After Eight (like the chocolate mints), Figo Verde com Marscapone (i.e. Green Fig and Mascarpone) and Banana Caramelada. And I’m sure there were even more delicious flavors that I missed because the Portuguese words didn’t resemble either English or Spanish words.
 
In the end, I decided on Figo com Água de Coco (i.e. Fig and Coconut Water) and Chocolate Branco com Amêndoas (i.e. White Chocolate with Almonds). I figured the flavors might clash, but both  sounded refreshing and light for a warm evening. 

Top half: Chocolate Branco con Amêndoas
Bottom half: Figo com Água de Coco

The verdict? Surprisingly, this this ice cream was just okay. Neither flavor made me swoon, but both were unlike anything I’ve experienced in the United States. It took me a while to warm to the  Chocolate Branco… it tasted artificial to me at first, but I grew accustomed to it and ended up polishing it off. The almond chunks were soft but retained some of their bite. While I’m not sure what I expected Figo con Água de Coco to taste like, it surprised me! The actual base was icy from the coconut water, and it reminded me more of a creamy take on Italian ice than of traditional ice cream. The best part was the bits of fig seeds in every bite. While neither flavor was memorable, they were light and refreshing. I’d like to give Mil Frutas a second chance next time I’m in Rio; there are so many other flavors to try, and I’m sure some of them are stellar.

The Stats:
Mil Frutas
Multiple locations in Rio de Janeiro
http://www.milfrutas.com.br/

A Cheese-Gelato in Paradise…

(Jimmy Buffet, anyone?)

Presidents’ Day is an interesting holiday. Truth be told, I never paid attention to it when I was younger. In Massachusetts, we always had our February vacation the week of Presidents’ Day. And with no parades or decorations, I’m sad to say that the holiday was simply absorbed into the rest of vacation week. Of course, this all changed when I entered the workforce. These days, I look forward to Presidents’ Day as a chance to escape the harsh D.C. winter and catch some rays in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

My boyfriend first visited Rio de Janeiro about six years ago during a family vacation – and he fell head-over-heels in love (this was before he met me, of course). Now, he can’t stay away from the city. In fact, I will always remember our first Valentine’s Day together; dinner was cut short because he had to catch the red-eye flight to Rio that night. Little did I know that I’d be accompanying him soon enough…

View from the Sheraton

Rio is a special place. It lives up to its reputation as a party-town with beautiful beaches and beautiful people. The famed Carnival takes place in February, but we tend to miss it – which is a good thing! The party never stops in Rio de Janeiro; it’s simply more crowded and more rowdy during Carnival. And hotel rooms become impossibly expensive that week. The boyfriend often spends hotel points to book a room at the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort. The Sheraton is situated at the west end of Rio’s famous beach; quieter and more spacious than hotels downtown, but still within sight and walking distance from the famous Ipanema Beach.

Famous Ipanema Beach

Last weekend was a perfect mix of fun and relaxation. We stayed active by walking through the city and swimming in the ocean. The boyfriend took it a step further, going for a run along the beach every morning. Me? I hit the gym – for about 15 minutes. I was more concerned with reading books on my Kindle and drinking cocktails by the beach. I’m a big fan of caipirinhas – the local cocktail made with lime, sugar, ice and cachaça (sugar cane liquor that reminds me of rum). And Rio is the only place I’ve been where you can actually order cocktails on the beach. Tourists and locals alike rent beach chairs and umbrellas from the dozens of vendors lined up along the beach. Your vendor then periodically walks around taking drink orders, returning minutes later with your coconut water, soda, beer, or caipirinha. The best part? Everything is reasonably priced! The boyfriend and I would spend less than $20US per day on two chairs, an umbrella, coconut waters, his beers, and my caipirinhas.

No tropical paradise would be complete without ice cream, right? When I first visited Rio, I discovered that it’s harder to find ice cream here than in most beach cities. There are more frozen yogurt shops than traditional ice cream ones. I’m not sure why this is, but it may have something to do with Rio’s health-conscious culture? Anyways, Sorvete Itália appears to be the ubiquitous ice cream brand in Rio. Their ice cream and popsicles are found in grocery stores, quickmarts, beach-side snack carts, and in their own stores. Sorvete Itália has over a dozen shops in Rio; the one we visited one night after dinner was located in the touristy Ipanema neighborhood.

Outside & inside views

Sorvete Itália pays homage to Italy in both their products and decor. Their trademark is gelato, but they’re also well-known for great sorbets and fancy popsicles. And their storefronts are inviting and fun, decorated with tile mosaics in the colors of the Italian flag. But many of the gelato flavors, on the other hand, are uniquely Brazilian. Some that caught my eye: Banana Caramelada (caramelized banana), Doce de Leite com Coco (coconut dulce de leche), and Manga com Gengibre (mango ginger sorbet). But the strangest of all was Queijo (cheese). Yes, my translation is accurate. This isn’t cheesecake flavor; it’s cheese. I wasn’t in the mood for cheese, so I went with Macadamia Crocante (macadamia crunch) and Tapioca. The boyfriend, on the other hand, simply couldn’t pass up the chance to order cheese gelato. He’s such a cheese-fan, you’d think he was from Wisconsin.

Macadamia/Tapioca on the left; Cheese on the right

The verdict? I winced while I watched the staff scoop out the gelato; it looked way too soft! Gelato is not supposed to be as firm as traditional ice cream, but this seemed almost melted. Sorvete Itália’s shop had an open storefront, and the deep freezer case was no match for the humid heat of Rio. But what this gelato lacked in firmness, it made up in flavor and textures. The Macadamia Crocante had a rich caramel-tasting base with swirls of caramelized macadamia nuts. It reminded me a lot of Georgetown Candy Co.’s Butter Brittle; satisfying but not life-shatteringly good. The Tapioca scoop in the bottom of my cup, however, blew my mind. The gelato base was sweet and coconut-y, but what set this flavor apart was the abundance of tapioca beads in each bite. I don’t how they did it, but these tapioca beads were soft and chewy – not frozen solid. I must figure out how to recreate this at home, as I’ve never seen this favor in the States. I couldn’t get enough of it. On the other hand, I’d be okay never tasting cheese-flavored ice cream again. The boyfriend loved his Queijo, which had a sweet cream base and little bits of cheese mixed throughout. Traditional Brazilian “queijo” is a mild cheese made from cow’s milk – but I can’t stomach it in my ice cream. I’m shuddering just remembering it. Let’s just say, this was the first time I didn’t pester the boyfriend for more “tastes” of his ice cream. To each their own, right?

The Stats:
Sorvete Itália
Multiple locations in Rio de Janeiro
www.sorveteitalia.com