Philadelphia doesn’t jump to the top of the list of hot places in the world, but during the peak of summer it can be worse than Albuquerque thanks to its humidity and concrete. Somewhere in the streets of South Philly, the old Italian art of granita became the new science of water ice, also known as Italian ice.
Like ice cream, it’s made in a churning batch freezer, which combines dairy-free ingredients into a perfectly mixed slurry. Unlike slush, water ice doesn’t separate and leave behind a depleted core of ice after the fruity sugar water has been consumed; unlike sorbet, macroscopic ice crystals are perceptible.
Somewhere in the streets of South Philly, the old Italian art of granita became the new science of water ice, also known as Italian ice.
A closet-sized Italian ice dispensary called Pop-Pop’s hides in a Sonic-dominated strip mall on Montgomery just east of Eubank. The only adornment is an assortment of Phillies, Flyers and 76ers paraphernalia, and the menu is simple: water ice, along with gelati and Icequakes—water ice blended with soft serve. The flavor syrup options are the same for each chilly variation: lemon, watermelon, mango, chocolate, cherry, cappuccino, vanilla, cotton candy, orange, granny apple and blue raspberry. The only solid foods available are pretzels, nachos and churros.
The texture of the water ice is perfect, easily passing through a straw without melting. The flavors have their share of artificial color and flavor, but they solve the problem of hot weather thirst; the mango is perfumey, the strawberry-lemonade piercing. Pop-Pop’s has legions of loyal regulars, including soccer moms with their posses in tow on the way home from practice. It’s open seasonally March through October.
There’s little agreement as to why the word Michoacán, a state in Mexico, has become the root of nearly all business names associated with the Mexican popsicles known as paletas. Either because paletas originated in that part of Mexico or a due to a serious P.R. hijacking, paying homage to the motherland appears a prerequisite to doing business in this field. Michoacána, a toponym that means “someone or something from Michoacán,” helps name an exhaustive list of paleterias across Mexico and the southern U.S. Albuquerque boasts three—all La Michoacána de Paquime. There’s one on Zuni, one on West Central and the South Valley location I visited, near Isleta and Rio Bravo.
The paletas come in both creamy and non-creamy flavors running the gamut from vanilla to a red-chile-cucumber. The mango-chile is so balanced that the ingredients merge into a new flavor in which the chile and mango become inextricably blended. The tamarind is a frozen version of tamarindo agua fresca. A strawberry-vanilla cream paleta tastes of fruity condensed milk and features big strawberry slices embedded like fossils in white marble. The paleta fruta is a mixture of many fruits including guava, melon and kiwi, each discernible by traces of pulp.
The mangoneada is at once too salty, too hot, too sweet and too tart. But together these four notes are cantilevered and leveraged against each other into a dazzling chord.
While there's something for everyone in the paleta selection, the most devastatingly thirst-annihilating item at La Michoacána is called the mangoneada. It sounds something like mango-lemonade, while the word in Spanish means someone who takes advantage of his or her position of power for personal gain. The mangoneada is the boss, the exploiter, the embezzler.
A popsicle of mango pulp is frozen into a plastic cup. When a mangoneada is ordered, the popsicle is unsheathed and lime juice, salt and red chile powder is added to the cup. The popsicle is replaced into this bath of salty, tart fire. The red chile pries open your taste buds to allow in more cold sweetness than you might otherwise permit, while the lime screeches across the hot fruit, blurring the line between them.
The mangoneada is at once too salty, too hot, too sweet and too tart. But together these four notes are cantilevered and leveraged against each other into a dazzling chord. As it warms, the popsicle softens around the edges and becomes increasingly impregnated with the contrasting raspy elements, sloughing off larger bites that expose a bright mango core. Soon it becomes a sweet, melting island floating in a caustic solution. This treat is so shocking and stimulating you can't remove a mangoneada from your mouth without responding exclamatorily.
Another dessert, mango en vaso de chile, plays on a similar formula but in a more fibrous and roughhewn fashion. Whole chunks of mango are spritzed with lime and sprinkled with chile and salt. Bolis are frozen sweetness in a plastic tube that you bite a corner off of and suck like a nipple until all the fruity, chocolatey or creamy goodness is gone. And there is ice cream, horchata, aguas frescas, and other cold and frozen creations to marvel at. But nothing, perhaps in the entire world, slaked my thirst as completely and dominantly as the mangoneada.