Three paletas that are worth a brain freeze

by Jessie O’Brien

Lupe Torres, co-owner of Michoacana El Oasis, has childhood memories of buying strawberry popsicles from the paletero man. She was born in Mexico but raised in California, where both American-style ice cream trucks and paleta carts coerced kids out of their homes with bells and tinny music. Kids may disagree, but to the adult palate, the phony red, white, and blue Bomb Pop flavors are a disappointment compared to the real fresh strawberry, creamy coconut, and tart lime flavors found in paletas.

Durango’s first michoacana (Mexican ice cream parlor) opened early this year at 2980 Main Ave. Along with creamy and water-based paletas, Michoacana El Oasis serves ice cream (try the Beso de Angel or pine nut) and snacks like the Tostilocos, a popular Mexican street food made with Tostitos chips topped with cueritos (pork rinds), cucumber, jícama, lime, chile powder, chamoy, Clamato juice, and other toppings to be mixed and enjoyed directly from the bag. Torres said paletas, ice cream, juices, and snacks are served at all traditional michoacanas. But since we’re getting into the cold-treat season, it’s important to know what’s on the frozen menu. Michoacana El Oasis serves traditional Mexican flavors that some may not be familiar with.

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Mango-ChileStrawberry was Torres’ favorite as a kid, but now she prefers the mango-chile. For anyone who loves sweet heat, this is the paleta for you. Torres uses a chile and lime powder that she gets from Albuquerque, as well as Tajin seasoning, a Mexican condiment staple made with salt, chile pepper, and lime. Versatile Tajin is equally as delicious in a savory michelada as on a sweet melon. The chile enhances the juiciness of the fruit while the fruit tempers the heat. The mango-chile combo is not only delicious, it makes for important social commentary. Just because we’re opposites, doesn’t mean we can’t get along.

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Tamarindo Torres said tamarindo is the most confused flavor. Customers often think it’s chocolate because of its brown color. The tart sourness of tamarindo is nothing like the bittersweetness of chocolate. Tamarind, the legume used to make tamarindo, grows in a pod on a tree. Inside the shell is a potent tart pulp that can be used in all types of cooking, including Indian chutneys. In Mexico, tamarind is found rolled in sugar for a simple candy (Torres puts a few of these on top of the Tostilocos, too). Because the pods have to be opened by hand, Torres said the tamarindo is the most labor-intensive paleta they make. They blend the tamarind with sugar and water to dilute the tartness, making for a refreshing summer treat.

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NanceThe golden orange fruit nance looks similar to a cherry. Nance is native to certain parts of Mexico, such as Nayarit and Chiapas, and the flavor is hard to nail down. The taste can vary from michoacana to michoacana because the fruit is either sweet or sour, depending on the cultivation. At Michoacana El Oasis, the nance paleta tastes somewhat tropical. Torres said customers will often come in and stock up on 10 to 15 paletas at a time because they are the treats they ate growing up.

Jessie O’Brien

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