Street food doesn’t get much cooler than helado de paila, an intriguing Ecuadorian twist on sorbet. This traditional treat is typically handmade in a large bronze bowl, and may date back as far as Incan times. According to local lore, helado de paila first became popular in the area around the modern Ecuadorian city of Ibarra sometime before the Spanish conquistadores showed up. The original helado de paila was supposedly made by crushing ice from the nearby volcano of Imbabura, which used to be capped with snow and ice. The crushed ice was then mixed with fruit juices to create a dessert, today known as helado de paila. A more recent story attributed the creation of the helado de paila to Rosalia Suarez, a settler who ran an ice cream parlour in Ibarra in the late 19th Century.
Today, Imbabura’s peak is nothing but barren volcanic rock, with not a speck of ice in sight. However, paila has remained fundamentally the same over the decades. Across Ecuador, helado de paila sellers can often be seen on the streets with their massive bronze bowls. However, preparing this treat isn’t easy. Helado de paila is still generally prepared by hand, and a single batch demands around 15 minutes of serious mixing.