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You would think that being raised by a Mexican immigrant dad and a second-generation Mexican and Puerto Rican mom would translate into a broad palate. But when it comes to candy, I was as narrow as any other kid growing up in Denver, Colorado. I stuck with the Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Pop Rocks, and blueberry bubblegum. All uncomplicated in their sweetness and unchallenging with their mild crunch, salt, and sparkle.
And then we would take road trips to Guadalajara, where my father grew up, and we would encounter Mexican candy.
At roadside shops and in supermarkets, my siblings and I would sidle over to the candy aisle, hopeful that my parents’ vacation mode included a liberal attitude toward sweets. Our hands would hover over the rows of orange and yellow and red cellophane wrappers with unfamiliar shades of tamarind inside. Here, we encountered what seemed like a perverse, bizarro world of candy, where sweet combined with sour, spicy and salty.
My dad would buy some, unwrap it and eagerly, and watch us with the wicked and expectant grin of a prankster. We would bite or lick and shudder. There was sweetness, but it traveled with an intense tartness that made Jolly Ranchers look timid. And then the painful burn of spice would burst through. The glittering sprinkles we thought were sugar always turned out to be salt. It was horrible, a nightmare assault of confection!
“Why would someone do this to candy?” I wailed through the miasma of confusion and betrayal.
Not until far into my adulthood did I get it. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty, all at once—these are the essential flavors of Mexican cuisine. They’re in the tangy pork stew birria, in pickled onion-topped carnitas, in and in one of my favorite cocktails, the margarita.
But it took my lifetime of eating thus far to prepare me for the chamoyada, a frozen treat that confectioner Fany Gerson of LaNewyorkina introduced to New Yorkers a couple of summers ago. The classic street snack is a cup of mango ice drizzled with chamoy (a pickled plum-flavored sauce), sprinkled with Tajín (salted chili powder) and garnished with a stick of salt and chili-coated tamarind candy. I’ve always thought it had the makings of an exciting cocktail.
You can find chamoy in some specialty markets or online. Almost all are made with artificial flavors, and some with high fructose corn syrup. But you can make your own by blending apricot spreadable fruit with hot sauce and lime juice. Tajín is the brand name of a mixture of salt, chili powder, and citrus. It’s easy to replicate with salt, chili powder and fresh lime zest.
I know we're not exactly loving things loud and orange these days. But you really have to make an exception for this thrilling, lip-puckering, bad hombre of a margarita.
For the Margarita Mix
- 6 ounces mango juice, chilled
- 2 ounces tequila blanco/silver
- 2 ounces triple sec
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
For the DIY Tajín
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon lime zest
- Chamoy (for coating glass and garnish)
- Tamarind candy sticks, like Betamex or Tamarrico (for garnish)
This post originally ran in March. We are re-posting it here in celebration of Mexican Independence Day.