People often ask me “what’s the thing you miss most about home when you travel?” My answer is easy, and it’s always the same. I miss ice.
It’s hot where I live in Texas. Not hot as in a nice place to picnic. I mean hot as in 110 degrees in the shade, at sunset, on a cloudy day.
I’m not complaining, because I’ve learned to cope. One of the things I do out of habit is fill my drinks with ice. Ice out of my freezer, ice out of a cooler, ice out of a fountain drink dispenser – whatever. I don’t even think twice about it. I just fill my glass to the rim with ice before I top it off with whatever I’m drinking.
When I travel in Europe, it always takes me a few days to get used to drinks without ice. If you order any cold drink abroad, you’ll likely get a bottle along with a skinny clear glass. The glass serves no purpose whatsoever except to make you feel fancy. You are supposed to pour your cold drink into the glass instead of glugging it straight from the bottle.
Unless you order something that specifically includes ice, like iced-tea, your waiter is not going to bring you any. And of course, you are NOT ordering iced-tea, because you’re in Europe and you know better. You are ordering chilled, fizzy Euro-water like it’s the Best Thing Ever.
Recently I met up with my dear friend from France, Emma, in Miami. It was a warm afternoon, and we were nibbling appetizers on the outdoor patio of a little Cuban restaurant. Our waiter brought us drinks over ice, and Emma immediately sent hers back. She wanted it without ice. “Zee ice, it makes zee drink so watery – it is horrible!” she purred Frenchly.
And you know, she had a point. The ice in my glass melted so fast that my drink was instantly diluted. Normally, I wouldn’t have even noticed. But Emma got me thinking. Maybe we Americans have it all wrong. If the drink is already cold, do we really need the ice?
I’ve pondered this question all over Europe. I’ve sipped my ice-free Coca-Cola “Lite” and my bubbly Eau-de-Anywhere, and I’ve been generally satisfied. But everything changed one day in Spain.
In the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, in the heat of August, I was surprised by what may be the world’s most glorious ice. I ordered mineral water at Café Ocana in the Placa Reial, and the waiter delivered a bottle of Vichy Catalan with 3 crystal-clear frozen cubes.
I thought it might be a trick. They were too transparent, too glacial, too perfect.
For a few minutes, I didn’t know what to do. I took a photograph. I clinked the cubes in my glass. I poked one with my finger. Then, very carefully, I poured the Vichy Catalan over the ice and took a sip. It was heavenly. I finished the mineral water long before the glassy cubes began to melt.
I sat there at my little red table for a long time, thinking that the Spaniards have it all figured out. They didn’t give me a full glass of melty frozen chunklets, but they didn’t deny me the pleasure of ice altogether.
They gave me 3 flawless cubes.