Editor’s note: It’s Cool Treats Week at Culinary Backstreets, and for our next installment, we head to the D.F., where chilangos not only enjoy a wide variety of ice cream, but also get some respite from the heat with popsicles and shaved ice.
Mexico City is blessed with great weather all year round. Summer is not very hot because it’s the rainy season, and at 2,200 meters above sea level, things cool down very fast as soon as the rain starts falling. However, we still get our hot days, especially in the spring, and even early afternoons in summertime can make us break out in a sweat. Two of the many delicious ways we have to cool down are paletas (popsicles) and raspados (shaved ice).
Paletas and raspados are popular treats all over Mexico, but they’re especially popular among schoolkids. It’s common to see paleta and raspado vendors around schools waiting for eager little customers at the end of any school day. Of course, adults enjoy these treats too, and you’ll find those vendors at parades, concerts and other street events as well.
Paletas in Mexico are divided into two main categories: de agua (generally made with fruit juice) and de leche (made with milk). Paletas de leche are smooth, and the flavors are usually those that complement milk, such as strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, Oreo, walnuts, cajeta (caramelized milk), arroz con leche (rice pudding) and chongos zamoranos (a typical dessert from the state of Michoacán that is made by boiling milk and adding sugar until only the curds are left).
Paletas de agua flavors can be anything from the classic lime and tamarind flavors to “exotic” ones such as kiwi, passion fruit, mango with chili, etc. One of our favorite places to get a taste of these kinds of flavors, not only in paletas but also in ice cream and sorbets, is Nevería Los de Revo, a small shop in Colonia San Rafael that imports its products from Pachuca, Hidalgo, where the headquarters are located. It’s a great place to sit down for a while and enjoy a good exotic paleta.
Ice cream parlors are abundant in the neighborhood of Coyoacán, and most sell both kinds of paletas. One of our favorite parlors is Helados Siberia, which has been in business for almost a century and sells a delicious yogurt paleta.
When you walk the streets of Mexico City, or any other Mexican city for that matter, the brand you see popping up everywhere is La Michoacana, with its logo of a girl in pink. This ice cream maker is one of the most recognized in Mexico. The brand dates back to the 1940s, when a little ice cream parlor started selling popsicles and ice creams in the town of Tocumbo, Michoacán. The business grew, and by the 1990s there was at least one La Michoacana in every plaza of Mexico’s most important cities. There are more than 30,000 stores nationwide, sometimes several in the same neighborhood. But is it worth stopping at one for a paleta or ice cream? The answer, unequivocally, is yes. La Michoacana products are made with natural ingredients and the paletas de agua and aguas frescas have a high fruit content.
Raspados are another much-loved after-school treat for kids. On a hot spring day, you’ll see vendors pushing carts with big blocks of ice all over the city. They usually shave the ice by hand and place the shavings in a plastic bag or cup. Then they add some flavored syrup, the most common being tamarind, rompope (eggnog), lime or grosella (red currant). One of our favorite places to get raspados is at Raspados Sonia in the Mercado Martinez de la Torre in the Guerrero neighborhood. Besides the classic flavors, they also offer passion fruit, kiwi and other tropical fruit flavors.