It appears as though Jaffna-ites have a very,very sweet tooth. Rio Ice Cream is a real stalwart of the North, and possibly one of Jaffna’s most famous culinary exports along with the Jaffna crab curry. Incidentally, before you conjure up images of a Brazilian fiesta or a seedy cinema, it turns out Rio actually stands for the Rathinam Industrial Organization.
It’s located right next to the famous, sprawling Nallur Temple, on the street from its arch-enemy, the Lingan Cream House (yes, really). It seems like a really great idea to pop in for a sundae in the scorching mid-day heat after a tour of the temple, specially since this is one of the rare establishments in Jaffna that has air-conditioning. Rio is clearly where all the cool kids of the area hang out and go on sassy sundaes with a gang of girlfriends during university lunch breaks.
The premises is rather nice, sectioned off into outdoor, indoor with fan, and indoor with A/C. After you make that first crucial decision, you need to decide what ice cream to order. This is where things get tricky. There are scoops, sundaes, specials, and other ice-cream offshoots. There can be no variations and backtracking. It’s nerve-racking, really.
The options include the usual chocolate/vanilla staples along with some exotic fruity ones like mango and blueberry. After we ordered a couple of options, it was clear that the choice of ice cream was void because everything had the same acute sweetness and synthetic syrupy taste. It was literally painfully sweet. But it appeared to be wildly popular so clearly this is an acquired taste. I can definitely see how children would love the bright colours and 90% sugar syrup content.
It’s a nice place to sit and people-watch if you live in Jaffna and need to get out of the heat. It’s also quite cheap, with a single scoop of icecream going for about Rs. 50 and a sundae with the works at around Rs. 150.
The USP however, is pure sentimental value. The original Rio Ice Cream parlour is old and sweet- it’s persisted through decades of war and strife as an integral part of the local community. It’s worth a diabetic shock or two to experience that.