There are 23 reasons I avoid the Mexican grocery store when my inner pig-tailed child is having a craving: $23 of tangy, chile-spiked, salty and only occasionally sweet Mexican candy overflowing from my shopping basket as my inner child does a twirl in her patent leather Mary Janes. Let's just hope my 30-something stomach can keep up with her.
Take a walk into Pro's Ranch Market on 16th Street and Roosevelt, head to the produce section, and look down or you'll miss all the good stuff. Candy in the produce section? Why, yes. Not like Mexican candy isn't loaded with sugar, but with predominant flavors of tamarindo, mango, and coconut, why not let them share shelf space? Do also understand that when it comes to Pulparindos, Pelones and Bubu Lubus, I turn a big blind brown eye to food additives. Sodium Benzoate? Red No. 40? I see nothing.
Don Draper said it best: Nostalgia is a more powerful bond than an additive-free organic lifestyle. Or something of that sort.
The search is on for the sweets first: Bubu Lulus and Paleta Payaso. Dark chocolate-covered fluffy marshmallow, the first with a delicious strawberry jam filling, the second with a gumdrop clown face. For bonus points, take one of the clowny suckers for a brief walk outside in the summertime, pop it in the freezer for a few and unveil a demon clown face, as the gumdrops have shifted in the molten chocolate. Then a box of Duvalin, hazelnut and vanilla creams, each serving accompanied with a convenient little spoon for swirling or carefully eating them separately. And Nutella just came out with those individual servings. Please.
Then the spicy, tangy candy starts to beckon. Mango-flavored lollipops covered in lightly salted chile power, Pulparindos, convenient individually wrapped tamarindo bars, and Pelones, a push-pop with a deliciously tangy and spicy bad hair day. Tamarindo paste so good one of these perfectly sized minis was devoured before leaving the parking lot. The patriotic green, white, and red coconut bar and the macaroon may seem less than exciting in comparison, but they are a nice way to cool off the fire in the belly. We're not done.
The smell of peanut butter drives me away from any room, but spicy and crunchy Japanese peanuts are good enough to make me forget my aversion to all things peanut-related, and my mouth has already collapsed into itself at the thought of savoring a saladito, a spiced salt-covered dehydrated plum. A treat so dry, so very salty that those extra five pounds of water weight? Gone. You're welcome.
Saving the best for last, as always, are those softer, far more natural sweets. A dry and crumbly peanut marzipan, perhaps more recognizable as a shortbread cookie. Pepitorias, a pumpkin seed brittle mixed with sesame seeds and peanuts. The seemingly plain but softly sweet jamoncillo (milk caramel fudge) and the oblea, gooey goat milk caramel, cajeta, sandwiched between paper-thin wafers.
If you find a mid-size silver sedan in the parking lot with a trail of candy wrappers and discarded Pelones caps leading up to it? Ignore it. I'll snap out of the sugar and dehydration coma. Maybe leave a Gatorade nearby.
As proprietor of Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food, Minerva Orduno Rincon makes everything from mole poblano to goat milk caramel to spiced (not spicy) cocoa. Find her at a farmers market near you.
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