Tamarind, gansito, cheese, and tres leches are just a few unique flavors you’ll find at a little ice cream shop tucked between a beauty salon and a convenience store in a Bladensburg strip mall. Needless to say, this isn’t Baskin-Robbins.
La Neveria Michoacana, a genuine Mexican ice cream parlor, is bright and airy, its pink and gray walls decorated with colorful paintings of fruit. Although several counter attendants are quickly scooping up orders, a line of customers is snaking out the door on a warm Sunday afternoon. Families, construction workers, and military personnel mingled in a not-so-orderly queue, chatting mainly in Spanish, waiting their turn to be served.
Gazing through the clear freezer glass into the ice cream buckets, you’ll find some familiar favorites, like cookies and cream, but also the unexpected. You’ll discover that the orange one with swirls of red ribbon is mango and chamoy, not orange and strawberry sherbet, and the green one is avocado. Soursop, prickly pear, and other unconventional flavors provide so much variety that you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. Sampling is encouraged, so definitely give several a try.
As you meander down the long freezer, unable to make a choice, your eyes behold a kaleidoscope of perfectly stacked ice-pop-shaped treats called paletas. Like ice pops, paletas are served on a stick, but at La Neveria Michoacana, that is where the similarity ends.
These traditional Mexican desserts are an absolute beauty to behold. They are made with water or cream with big chunks of fruit or even whole cookies peeking out from beneath their frozen base. Slices of strawberry and kiwi, nuts, spices, rice, and yes, even flowers can flavor these colorful goodies.
The owner, Claudio Cortez Cortez, is from Puebla, Mexico, a large city famous for its culinary history. Emigrating to the United States approximately 12 years ago with knowledge of the industry, Cortez began his path to business owner by first working for Andres Morales and his partners. They were in the process of opening the first La Neveria Michoacana in Richmond, VA. After successfully expanding to additional stores in Northern Virginia, Morales, in turn, helped Cortez, who was by now a partner, open his own store in Maryland, bringing the total to five.
And although the stores go by the same name, they are not franchises in the traditional sense but independently operating “sister” companies with partners that support each other’s growth. Cortez said he hopes to expand so he can provide the same opportunity to others … to help them in the same way that Morales supported him. “When you come to the United States, you want to do your best … you want to improve your situation for you and for your family. Not many people get the same opportunity I had. I want to give others that chance,” he said.
La Neveria Michoacana makes 800 to 1000 paletas per day based on a recipe brought from Mexico. Approximately 80 percent of the products sold are natural. And although 70 percent of their customers are Hispanic, more people discover paletas daily. In fact, Americanized versions of traditional paleta shops are starting to appear throughout the U.S., offering “Artisanal Popsicles” with a surprisingly similar look.
However, tradition holds that paletas were invented in Michoacana, Mexico (where a statue has actually been erected honoring the treat). So skip the artisanal ice pop shops and explore the genuine tastes of Mexico at a local paleta shop. After all, why would anyone settle for a knockoff when you can have the real thing.
Kim Strong’s freezer is full of paletas she bought for research purposes. You can reach her at [email protected].
Where you can find authentic paletas
La Neveria Michoacana
4527 Kenilworth Ave., Bladensburg
Hecho En Baltimore
3222 Eastern Ave., Baltimore
Paleteria La Zacatecana
5910 Allentown Way, Temple Hills
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