Venezuelan has scoop on shrimp, spaghetti, fish-flavoured ice cream

Rosnep Gonzalez gasped in disbelief as he surveyed the selection at Heladeria Coromoto, an ice cream parlor in this western Venezuelan city perched between towering mountains.

"Garlic!" the 10-year-old shouted at his mother. "Smoked trout! Avocado! Onion!"
His dark eyes wide as saucers, Gonzalez settled for something relatively conservative, "Coca-Cola" ice cream. He said it tasted great, "just like the soft drink."

Opened 22 years ago by Portuguese immigrant Manuel Da Silva Oliveira, Coromoto has become wildly popular with locals and tourists who come to sample its hundreds of flavors of ice cream.

A former construction worker and chef, Oliveira began with four flavors - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coconut - but branched out after hearing about avocado-flavored ice cream in Brazil.

It took Oliveira 45 tries to get the avocado flavor right. Since then, he has become a Guinness World Records holder, producing 812 flavors to date - and counting.

"I thought up 50 or 60 new flavors this year," said Oliveira, 73. "I try it and if I don't like the taste right away, I drop it."

Not all 812 flavors are available every day, but there are usually about 75 chilling under a long glass counter.

There is smoked trout-flavored ice cream and tuna ice cream, along with shrimp, squid, ham and cheese, meat, whiskey, beer, champagne, wine, crab, rice, pumpkin, roses, black beans, ginger, asparagus, chili, spaghetti and cheese, garlic and corn - and many more.

The garlic ice cream carries a sharp, strong taste like, well, garlic. The black bean flavor looks like thick, dark goo but tastes like black beans, but much sweeter.

You can spot little chunks of white tuna in the tuna ice cream, and the meat ice cream is made from something akin to mashed filet mignon.

"The key is that we use no chemicals," said Oliveira, who works the cash register and clearly relishes his quirky fame. "It's all natural. If you eat the spaghetti with cheese ice cream, it has real spaghetti and cheese in it."

As Oliveira spoke, dozens of ice cream lovers packed the shop, whose walls are lined with a dozen plaques and countless handwritten notes from satisfied customers.

One young woman posed for a photograph with Oliveira. "He's famous," she said excitedly. But another customer looked deflated after learning that his favorite flavor, fried pork rind, was unavailable.

Many customers stared at a huge wall listing some of Coromoto's flavors, including offerings named "Forgive me my love," "Honeymoon," "Cuba Libre" and "My First Kiss." Rounding out the list was a flavor named "Viagra - the Hope."

"There is no Viagra in it, but there are two aphrodisiacs - honey and pollen," explained Oliveira.

How effective is it? "I have just taken a small bite of Viagra and it's given me incredible strength," read one note posted in the shop.

Oliveira said his favorites are coffee and aguardiente, a powerful alcoholic drink. Perched at a long counter inside the store, Maria Bastidas, a 55-year-old acupuncturist, began digging into orange blossom ice cream.

"It's exquisite," she said. "The taste is just like the aroma of the flower."
Some customers are looking to score a quick meal by mixing and matching flavors.

One popular combination is shrimp and beer ice cream. Dried fish and potatoes is another favorite double scoop. One local asks every day for cazuela de mariscos, or seafood stew, a Venezuelan staple.

"I make it with five balls of different fish flavors," explained Oliveira, who charges about 50 cents per scoop.

Sometimes Oliveira does the mixing, such as with his hamburger flavor, which he described as a single scoop composed of meat, cheese, French fries and a few other "secret ingredients."

Often, it takes customers a second or third visit before they get adventurous. After polishing off his first ice cream, Gonzalez took a deep breath and boldly ordered a spaghetti and cheese and smoked trout combination.

He took a lick before rendering his judgment.
"It's delicious," he announced.