I’ve never been afraid of trying new types of food, so when I went to check out La Paleteria y Neveria la Nueva Michoacana, I knew it was going to be an adventure.
At first glance, la Paleteria seemed like an ordinary mom-and-pop restaurant. The fluorescent lights on the building, the painted pictures of waffle cones and the tempting images of popsicles. My growling stomach was severely disappointed when we opened the chipped wooden door and realized the enchiladas and queso I had been dreaming about all day were nowhere on the menu.
Instead, the walls of the brightly painted one-room establishment wore handwritten signs scrawled in Spanish not even my four semesters of both high school and college could make out.
Though I clearly couldn’t speak the language, La Paleteria’s family atmosphere instantly made me feel at home. Owner Lourdes Osequera patiently explained each menu item to us. When I admitted we didn’t exactly know what we were doing, her face beamed with delight at the chance to teach us about her craft.
And yes, I did bring friends along to ensure I was not the only clueless white girl on the block.
We sampled creamy mango chili ice cream and sweet piña colada aguas frescas – just a couple of their many choices. With such intense flavor, my university dining-hall accustomed taste buds felt like they had woken from a long slumber. But I wasn’t about to have ice cream for dinner, not when there was more adventure to be had.
With gusto, I ordered the two most authentic items they served: los duros con cueritos (pickled pork skins atop puffed wafers) and eloté (corn in a cup). As it turns out, I later learned that neither of these are meant for a meal at all. They’re just “antojitos” – Mexican snacks equivalents to tater tots or cheese fries. No wonder I was still hungry when I got home.
Pickled pork skins look and taste much like calamari before they’ve been fried – slimy, pungent and tough. If I hadn’t known exactly what they were, I might have liked them. There’s something about pork and skin going in my mouth that just didn’t feel right and, disappointingly, I could only stomach a few bites, even with the layered pico de gallo and sour cream. The avocado though? Now that’s a los duros topping I can handle.
Corn in a cup is served in a Styrofoam to-go container. The corn is warmed, placed at the bottom of the container and piled high with mayonnaise, melted butter and powdered cheese, then sprinkled with freshly squeezed lime juice and, if you feel like it, chile powder.
We, in our ignorance, dove straight in and stuffed forkfuls of warm mayonnaise in our overly-eager mouths. If only we had seen the nearby man mix his up before we had ingested the mysterious white substance.
Though the “meal” was far from my comfort zone, I could taste the heartfelt sincerity in every bite. Osequera and her husband are both from Mexico and make everything themselves. While the food was certainly different, la Paleteria gave me a greater appreciation for the people of this world, especially as people unlike me. I cannot wait to return to this hidden treasure. But next time I think I’ll skip the pork skins.