Havana’s Vedado neighborhood is like a time capsule of antique Chevy’s, uniformed school kids, and patina-ed colonial mansions. Since 1966 it’s also been the home of the legendary Coppelia. It’s a park with multiple ice cream stands that take up a large block on one of the city’s main arteries, La Rampa.
People start lining up at 10 in the morning, and on steamy afternoons the lines can stretch well past the park gates. But at $.04 a scoop it’s well worth the wait, and Havaneros of all ages can be found eating upwards of 10 scoops per visit. It’s a treat, but it also provides a caloric boost to those who subsist on state rations of beans, rice, eggs, and bread.
The phenomenon began with Fidel Castro’s own love of ice cream. When the park first opened there were 54 flavors, including offerings like avocado and tomato. Pedro Zamora manages one of the lines in the park and he says Coppelia produces the best ice cream around.
“It’s very creamy, and made with quality ingredients,” Zamora says.
Problems with the US embargo make it difficult to get materials, but Coppelia has always maintained a high quality. It’s the cathedral of ice cream!” But these days the park usually only has two flavors — on this day guava and strawberry.
The park was named for Castro’s longtime aide Celia Sanchez. She was known for her love of dance, and Coppelia was her favorite ballet. The Coppelia ice cream park has also influenced Cuban pop culture… there’s a popular salsa move bearing its name, and the parlor played a starring role in one of Cuba’s best-loved films, “Strawberry and Chocolate.”
Coppelia’s enduring popularity is a source of great pride for Cubans. And there’s talk that Cuba might export the brand. Last March, Cuba’s close ally Venezuela announced that it’s planning a factory to produce Coppelia ice cream… though it’s not clear where or what flavors.
Salsa dance named after the park: