I heard on the radio that today is Ice Cream Day at GUM, a famous shopping centre on the Red Square in Moscow. Too bad I’m in Yaroslavl at the moment!
GUM is one of my favourite places in Moscow. Not for shopping – it only features exclusive stores with insane price tags – but because it is such an amazing building that’s always beautifully decorated depending on the season. Its architecture reminds me a bit of the Galéries royales St Hubert in Brussels. It was built before the Soviet era, at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s Stalin converted it into office space but in 1953, it reopened as a department store. Now it’s difficult to imagine the queues there must have been back then, because most of today’s luxury stores are empty nearly every time I go there.
Here’s a video showing what GUM looks like during the flower festival that’s going on right now.
Although I visit GUM almost every time I’m in Moscow, I had my first ice cream there only a couple of weeks ago. At first I didn’t know what a big deal it was to try an ice cream at GUM and by the time I had learnt about it, it was wintertime and my tongue was one of the only body parts that wasn’t frozen yet, which I wanted to keep that way. Now that’s a very un-Russian attitude because Russians love ice cream, whatever the season or the weather. You can find ice cream stands any time anywhere and they’re even selling ice cream on the train, all year round.
Russia’s love for ice cream dates back to the 1930s, when the first ice cream factory in Russia was opened after the Russian Ministry of Food Supply had visited the US. The idea was to create a mass-produced product at a reasonable price for everyone to enjoy. Ice cream was taken so seriously that a state-wide standard for manufacturing was introduced in 1941 to ensure its quality. According to the standard, the ice cream could include only natural ingredients and could contain no chemicals of any kind. These strict rules meant that the taste of the different types of ice cream available were the same everywhere, so it was very recognizable and therefore nostalgic for Russians today.
Many of the Soviet ice creams are still sold nowadays. The most legendary one is that from GUM, which traditionally comes in crème brûlée, chocolate or vanilla flavors and is served in a waffle cone. I tried the chocolate one (of course) and was pleasantly surprised. After having tasted fresh gelato in Italy, my expectations weren’t too high. But the taste was pretty good and very creamy. (Probably because of the high fat content but let’s forget about that!) And the best part of it? An ice cream only costs 50 rubles (about 60 eurocents). I think I’ll make an ice cream at GUM part of my standard routine when visiting Moscow!