How Italians sold ice cream to the masses in Vienna

Residents of the Austrian capital have queued for more than 130 years to sample the Italian ice cream of the Molin-Pradel family, one of Vienna's oldest gelato dynasties.

How Italians sold ice cream to the masses in Vienna
Molin-Pradel family Ice-cream parlour is pictured at Schwedenplatz square in Vienna, Austria. credit: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“He helped democratise ice cream, which before was reserved for the wealthy,” Silvio Molin-Pradel says of his great-great-grandfather Arcangelo, who began selling it out of pushcarts in Vienna in 1886.

More than a century later, ice cream consumption among Austrians is higher than in neighbouring Italy.

And it was entrepreneurs like Arcangelo Molin-Pradel, born into poverty in northern Italy’s Dolomite Alps, who were among the first to benefit from the sweet tooth of the Viennese.

The high cost of sugar, milk and refrigeration — years before electric freezing was invented — meant ice cream was long reserved for aristocrats.

But ingenious Italians like the Molin-Pradels changed that, producing ice cream based on water and fruit extract.

Ice cream migration

Originally from Zoldo,  six hours from Vienna by car these days, the Molin-Pradels, like other families, were so poor that migrating for seasonal work was part of life — whether to work as seafarers, lumberjacks or ice cream makers.

Vienna became one of the ice cream makers’ first destinations outside Italy, says Maren Moehring, a history professor at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

The Italian migrants’ “frozen stuff” as some called it quickly became popular with ordinary Viennese.

This sparked the ire of Austrian bakers, who perceived them as “dangerous competition”, Moehring says.

In 1894, the ice cream makers got the right to open shops in Vienna rather than just selling ice cream from carts.

“The Viennese were already used to sweets… so it wasn’t hard to then serve this cold product,” Molin-Pradel, who keeps his recipes a secret, tells AFP as he stands in the back of his salon at Schwedenplatz.

At the central, tree-lined square in the heart of Vienna, the family still produces artisanal ice cream.

Each day in summer, about 5,000 customers order from dozens of flavours, ranging from traditional ones like chocolate and vanilla to avocado, lavender and hemp.

READ MORE: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out flops

“Every Viennese will tell you that ‘their’ Italian ice cream maker is better,” says Molin-Pradel.

“The colours must be pastel. It is a guarantee of quality,” he says, adding that the business has expanded, including selling their ice cream through some Vienna supermarkets.

Lasting tradition

Out of roughly 370 ice cream shops in Austria, about 40 are still run by Italians in the small Alpine nation of almost nine million people, according to the Austrian Economic Chamber.

Its data also show that Austria boasts an average per capita consumption of more than 60 scoops per year, or about eight litres of ice cream – more than in Italy, with an average consumption of six litres.

From one generation to the next, the gelato makers’ skills and knowledge were passed on, “which explains their success”, Moehring says.

While ice cream makers in earlier times would typically return to Italy to take care of the harvests in the Alps by mid-August, today the season lasts well into October.

Even today, Pradel-Molin goes on a pilgrimage to his ancestral home of Zoldo at the end of each season.

It’s still his source of inspiration to keep up with the latest flavours and other industry secrets, he says.

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Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

Whether you're going out to dinner in Italy or have been invited to over to a friend or extended family member's home, here's what to expect from an Italian meal.

Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

More humble and less fussy than French cuisine, Italy’s cucina povera (literally, ‘kitchen of the poor’) tradition employs minimal ingredients, prioritising fresh local produce over complex techniques.

But while it might not be as elaborate and formal as its Gallic counterpart, an Italian dinner is still traditionally a multi-course affair, often stretching over several leisurely hours and involving various stages.

If you’re invited into an Italian home for lunch or dinner, you’re likely to find it a fairly relaxed occasion that may include all or just some of the courses listed below – though you can expect it to be lengthy and copious.

As in many other countries, it’s polite in Italy to bring a bottle of wine or dessert to dinner in someone’s house; if in doubt, ask what your hosts would like.

Without further ado, here’s what you can expect from a full Italian dinner.


The antipasto (‘before-meal’) is the starter course.

Its remit is pretty broad, and might include anything from bruschetta to salad to a cheese or meat platter. If you’re in someone’s home, you might be served olives or savoury snacks such as taralli.

While you’ve probably heard of the tradition of the pre-dinner aperitivo drink and snack, this is separate from the dinner itself, and usually takes place in bars or cafes rather than in restaurants or homes.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What time do people eat dinner in Italy?

Primo piatto

A primo is a carb-based dish: almost always pasta, though it could also be risotto, gnocchi or polenta.

In line with the cucina povera, which describes the make-do cooking of poverty-stricken rural Italy in decades gone by, this dish serves to fill the diner up before moving on to a smaller (more expensive) protein course.

Because of this, while you might find small amounts of meat or fish in Italian primi in the form of guanciale in your carbonara or minced beef in your ragù sauce, you won’t be served large quantities of meat with your primo.

Polpette, or meatballs, are a separate second course, and you’ll never come across a chicken-based pasta dish in Italy.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do Italians get so angry if you mess with classic recipes?

Secondo piatto

The secondo is, as its name suggests, your second main dish – usually meat or fish, though most restaurants will offer at least one vegetarian option in the form of something like an aubergine parmigiana.

If you want to round it out, you can order one or more contorni – side plates of salad or vegetables.

Italian restaurants will provide both primo and secondo options, but these days most places won’t expect you to order both, and it’s fine for one person to order a primo and the other a secondo to arrive at the same time.


Once the secondo is over, it’s time for dessert.

The type of dolce you’re offered will likely vary depending on region, but the list commonly includes cantucci biscuits to be dipped in vin santo dessert wine, panna cotta, a crostata tart, and, of course, tiramisù.

If you’ve got a hankering for gelato, you’re probably best off heading out to one of the many gelaterie that populate the piazzas and streets Italian towns, where you’ll have access to a wide range of flavours.

READ ALSO: The must-try foods from every region of Italy


Next comes the caffè, which in Italy is an espresso – definitely not a cappuccino or caffè latte, which are strictly breakfast drinks, though you might get away with asking for a splash of milk and making yours a caffè macchiato.

It might seem unwise to consume caffeine at the end of the evening, but you can always order a caffè decaffeinato (usually shortened to deca), and its effects are at any rate tempered by what follows:


At the very end of the night, you’ll likely be offered a bitter amaro liqueur or some other spirit-based digestivo (some restaurants will bring these for free along with the bill).

This could also be a distilled liquor grappa, or if you’re further south, a sweet limoncello.

Taken straight after or along with your coffee, these after-dinner drinks are known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè – literally, a coffee-killer, for its dampening effect on the caffeine.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of an Italian meal! Now you just have to roll yourself off your chair or sofa and make your way home, where you’ll spend a good portion of the following day digesting your meal.