Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Paletography of Los Angeles - Pucker up!

Pinatas outside Paleteria Limon
 A very typical California strip mall - modern, stucco-faced, with fake tile and quasi-Spanish detail, flanked in by shiny new model Camrys, Hyundais and SUVs - nevertheless reveals the demography of the small community of Maywood, 97% of whose residents identified themselves as Latino in the 2010 census.

Here a dulceria, selling Mexican sweets and candies, and a zapateria, or shoe store, flank the Paleteria Limon, a frozen fruit bar store so popular the line was going out the door the day we visited.

Inside, it's a modern and bright store, staffed by two very busy women. In the corner over an upright fridge, a shrine to the Virgin is decorated with white twinkle lights. In addition to the frozen fruit bars stacked in the freezer, they also sell frozen bananas on a stick, dipped in chocolate and nuts or sprinkles.

The menu includes savory snacks as well, elote en vaso, or corn cut off the cob, served in a cup with mayonnaise, lime, chile and cheese, or Americanized nachos.

But as we stood in line, everyone wanted something cool - paletas, ice cream, or raspados, Mexican-style snowcones. The woman in front of us said all the paletas were delicious and she pointed out some of the flavors in the case. Fresa con crema, strawberries and cream, bright blue bubblegum flavor, or chongo, one of their specialties, which is sweetened cheese curds, similar to ricotta.

All these sweets sounded great, but our friend's little daughter, who looked about nine, was there for something called a Skippy. We watched as the woman behind the counter mixed various neon-orange syrups, drenching a rounded scoop of crushed ice in a styro cup.

When it was our turn to order, we chose six paletas, but our friend urged us to try a Skippy. The woman behind the counter smiled and offered to give us a taste.

She filled a small cup with ice and once again the multi-colored syrups. "Thank you so much!" I tasted it.

Whoa! what a flavor-bomb!

Icy, spicy, sour, sweet and salty - It puckered my mouth up and made my saliva glands squirt, but made me smile. [The Man I Love] found it too much for him. "I can't take it!" he said once we were in the parking lot, and although I agreed with him, I couldn't stop scooping up the icy concoction with the plastic spoon until the cup was empty.

The menu describes a Skippy as being made with ciruela y tamarindo - ciruela is plum, and tamarind is the puckery pulp of a tropical pod-like fruit much beloved in Asia as well as Mexico. The Skippy is also flecked with fiery chile powder. This blend of intense, contrasting tastes and sensations is much loved, and is a hallmark of the Mexican taste aesthetic.

The paletas we chose at Paleteria Limon were the famous chongo, yogurt with  fruits and nuts, pistachio, guanabana  (soursop), grosella (red currant), and cajeta de membrillo, a paleta de leche flavored with sweet syrupy candy made from quinces.

I will say that at $2, the paletas at Limon were more expensive than those at other places we visited - Los Alpes' paletas were only $1.25 for the water ices, and only a quarter more for milk. Mateo's were $1.50 each. At Cascada, the paletas were $2, too, but much larger than Limon - where the molds had sneaky lengthwise indents that further reduced the volume.

Pistachio paleta
Still - they were delicious and the flavors were great. The yogurt and fruit bar was packed with fruit and nuts. Cajeta de mebrillo was gooey inside with real quince paste. Pistachio was packed with nuts, and its pale green color was all natural, no fake color involved.

Cajeta de membrillo
And then there's the Skippy! More flavors await for tasting - give it a try!


smalltownme said...

This makes me wish I hadn't given away my popsicle molds as some wonderful combinations are running through my mind.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Paletas are so good, with all of the fresh, natural ingredients. My favorite paleteria sells gazpacho paletas, which are also sweet, hot, and spicy. Another really good snack they sell is mango slices, marinated in lime juice and dusted with crushed red pepper.

I know where I'm going on my day off next week.