Chicago's Best Frozen Treat Comes From South of the Border
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The flavors in this Mexican dessert might sound weird, but they work deliciously well.
By Ximena N. Larkin
The Mexican mangonada looks like it was made for Instagram. Envision a mango smoothie with a ribbon of red spiced liquid running through it. The top is covered in mango chunks, lime, Tajín — a mild chili seasoning — and a straw wrapped in tamarind paste. While it looks like the OTT dessert was dreamed up just for social media likes, it’s actually been around for more than two decades, popular with the Latinx community as a cooling-off treat.
And the best places to find a mangonada? In the Mexican neighborhoods of major U.S. cities — like Chicago.
As a child growing up in Mexico, Katsuji Tanabe, Top Chef alum and executive chef of Barrio in Chicago, says it was a tradition to get a mangonada during the summer months. For him, it conjures memories of walking through the “mercados (markets) with my family, and my dad always telling me not to get my shirt dirty.” But, he recalls, “I would always come home with stains all over myself.”
The drink is more likely to make your mouth pucker than set it on fire.
The crimson-colored sauce — likely the source of Tanabe’s childhood woes — is chamoy, a condiment rich in umami made from pickled stone fruit such as apricots. On its own, it tastes salty and tart. Pairing it with mango sorbet might seem odd, until you consider the science behind it.
It turns out we have special taste buds that allow us to taste certain sugars only when in the presence of salt, according to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The mangonada’s briny red condiment dances with the sweet mangoes to create an unusual but pleasant flavor profile. The heat of the spice is manageable — the drink is more likely to make your mouth pucker than set it on fire.
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It will also cool you off. Mangonadas are sweet, but savory and acidic, according to Pablo Salas, executive chef of Lona Cocina y Tequileria in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “A perfect balance for a hot summer day,” he says.
The average cost of a 12 oz. mangonada hovers around $5. Los Mangos, a fresh fruit and ice cream shop in Chicago founded by Eladio and Judith Montoya, recently expanded to meet demand for mangonadas. Six years ago, the couple opened their first store specializing in the umami-packed dessert; today, they operate eight locations across the city. You can make your own at home (see recipe below), but you’ll not likely find liquid chamoy and tamarind straws at your local grocery store. The easier option is to explore a local Mexican neighborhood.
With the Latino population on the rise in U.S., it’s only a matter of time before the mangonada goes mainstream. Earn some cool points, and try it before it floods your Instagram feed.
(From chef Katsuji Tanabe, who suggests adding tequila to turn it into an adult beverage)
- 2 cups frozen chunk mangoes
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 tablespoons glucose
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
Directions: Blend everything. Pour into a popsicle mold or bowl, and freeze overnight.
- 1 cup chopped fresh apricots
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 2 guajillo peppers
- 1/4 tablespoon salt
Directions: Combine all the ingredients, and cook in a pot on low heat for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend well. Squeeze a fresh lime into the blended mixture.
- Chamoy (recipe above)
- Mango sorbet (recipe above)
- Fruit seasoning (such as Tajín)
- Mango chunks
- Tamarind straws
- Coat rim and inside of 12 oz. glass with liquid chamoy.
- Add the juice of half a lime and about 1/2 tablespoon (to taste) of fruit seasoning to the glass.
- Fill the cup with mango sorbet, leaving about an inch at the top for a few fresh mango chunks.
- Top off with more chamoy, the remaining lime juice (or more to taste) and fruit seasoning.
- Serve with a tamarind straw and a spoon.
- Ximena N. Larkin, OZY Author Contact Ximena N. Larkin