|The Ice Cream Penguin selling paletas at the beach|
The summer season here in Chelem Puerto, Mexico is officially over and what a crazy past few months it’s been. Our normally quiet and deserted beach was invaded by hordes of Mexican families that came to escape the heat and humidity of Merida and other inland towns. Almost all the houses in our area were full of people, music filled the air night and day, and we met neighbors that we have never seen in the year that we have lived here.
With the hordes of people came hordes of vendors selling everything from essentials like drinking water, propane gas, basura (trash pick-up) and coconut pies—yes, these are apparently an essential here—to inflatable floats for the water, and snacks to eat on the beach. My favorite vendor by far was the one selling frozen paletas from his plastic penguin on the beach (see photo below). The penguin was mounted on a triciclo, which is large tricycle with a platform or seat between the two front wheels. Triciclos are very common in the Yucatan, especially in the rural areas, and are used for transporting both supplies and people. This guy normally pedals the streets of Progreso, but here he was pushing his cycle through the soft sand…not an easy feat on a hot and humid day! And he was busy. As soon as would he finish a sale and close his penguin (the frozen treats are carried in the body and the top of the bird is hinged), more people would show up to buy. He would then push the heavy load down the beach to the next big group of people.
Paletas, or “little shovels,” are frozen treats that look similar to popsicles or ice cream bars, but that’s where the similarity ends. Paletas taste fruity and refreshing and commonly have chunks of fruit in the bar. They are only made from fresh fruits that are in season and some are even spiced with chile. They come in an amazing variety of flavors such as tuna (the fruit of the prickly pear cactus), tamarind, cajeta or caramel, cucumber with chile, rice, and even elote or corn. Of course there are the usual flavors such as pineapple or mango (both with chile), watermelon, strawberry, lime, coconut, and so forth. Whatever is in season will wind up in a paleta. There are two types—those made with water or paletas de agua, and paletas de leche or crema, which are made with milk or cream. In addition to being made with only fresh ingredients and no artificial flavors or colors, they are also much lower in sugar than other snack foods.