praline concoction where you could feel the sugar granules under your teeth? Fany's cookbook had a recipe. It turns out muéganos are fried-dough balls, stuck together with piloncillo syrup. Since I am the girl who orders a buñuelo off the street and then greedily eats the whole thing, muéganos were not a snack that I could miss. So, a few days ago, I ventured to the candy vendor who sits outside the Palacio de Hierro parking lot under a blue umbrella. (I'm guessing he hands people candy through their car windows.) Like a lot of other street candy vendors, he sells gaznates -- tube-shaped pastries stuffed with meringue -- and cocadas. One muégano was kind of expensive: 15 pesos, or more than a dollar. Being a good food blogger, I meant to take my muégano home and get a photo first. But just knowing there was fried, sticky-sweet dough ball in my purse, I couldn't help myself and bit into it right away. Wow. This thing was dangerous. A lot of Mexican candies are overwhelmingly sweet, but the muégano seemed balanced, with the caramel taste of Cracker Jack popcorn. It was kind of like eating a syrup-soaked buñuelo that had hardened in the sun somehow. I loved it. Obviously I can't order them every day, but I may get one again, when an alegría doesn't suffice. Have you tried muéganos before?Per my usual food experience in Mexico City, I kept seeing muéganos on the street and had no idea what they were. Was this a nutty popcorn ball of sorts? Or a sickly sweet,
All the Day of the Dead festivities officially ended yesterday. Boo. I did want to share with you, though: The Feria de Alfeñique had some of the neatest looking Day of the Dead candy, much of it from dulce de pepita, which is a thick, moldeable paste made from pumpkin seeds. It's lightly sweet. Almost everything was in miniature, which of course made the girlie side of me cry out. Especially when I saw the tiny pieces of sweet bread. And then the teeny tortas. I bought one, just because they were so adorable. The man selling them joked, "Would you like one with ham or milanesa?" There were also candy rats.... And hundreds of chocolates... And tiny pieces of fruit, made from dulce de leche. (This is different from the dulce de leche in Argentina -- it's sweeter, and doesn't have that warm caramel taste.) I liked dulce de pepita better, because it wasn't as sweet. And that's not even mentioning the sugary fruits and vegetables. They're regular old pieces of fruit (or squashes, or sweet potatoes) that have been boiled down with sugar and slathered in honey. They're eaten a piece at a time, so you can savor their extreme-sugar state. My faves, for their pure unique value, were the shriveled carrots and the nopal. Lastly, I saw chongos zamoranos, which I'd read about in a few cookbooks but never seen up-close. I pictured little knots of honeyed curds -- not sure why. These looked kind of like fried pastry dough, and ended up tasting like thin, ultra-concentrated sheets of dulce de leche. Basically, another big mouthful of pure sugar. The chongos were too sweet for me. Looking at all these now, I wish I would have bought more dulce de pepita. It's 8:24 a.m., and I could really use a teeny torta right now with my coffee.
Alice had told me about the greatness of Palacio de Hierro's food department, but I wasn't prepared when I walked in to the Roma branch for the first time a few days ago. Baskets brimmed with golden-brown loaves of bread, and mounds of candied, chili-powder dusted fruit. Exotic salts and truffles and jams (lime cardamom!) piled up on a shelf, each bearing the name of famous Mexican chef Monica Patiño. (Who knew she had her own food line?) Dazzling rows of chocolates sat inside glass cases. And then there were the bonbons. "Bonbon" means chocolate-covered marshmallow, and these things looked so perfect, I wanted to dump a basket into a blanket and walk out, Santa-Claus-style. They were plump, chewy little tufts of cotton, covered in chocolate and nuts. I couldn't resist buying one. Palacio also has traditional Mexican candy, and after I came down from my bonbon high, I realized this would be a great place to buy a few gifts. Can't tell you what I bought, because the recipients may be reading. (Heh heh.) But on display were much of what you'd see in a typical candy store: jamoncillo, cocada, obleas, puffs of meringue, amaranth bars, and piles of waxy-looking, candied camote and chilacayote. They've also got an extensive wine department (bought a Shiraz from Parras for about 220 pesos), and a deli that sells sandwiches, salads and chiles en nogada. And there's a fresh cheese and meat department, with big ol' jamon serrano thighs hanging from the ceiling. After about 30 minutes of mindless wandering -- I admit I stared lustfully at the jamón serrano thighs -- I paid for my purchases and left. But when I got home, I unwrapped my bonbon. You don't want to know how good it was. INFO Palacio de Hierro Durango No. 230, at the corner of Durango and Avenida Oaxaca. Col. Roma, C.P. 06700. México, D.F. Telephone: 5242-9000 Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Note: Palacio is a high-end department store, and the gourmet section is inside. It's located on the first floor (planta baja), right off the main Oaxaca Avenue entrance.
UPDATE DEC. 2012: I have learned since I wrote this post (more than 3 years ago now!) that the items pictured in the above photo are *not* alegrias, but pepitorias. And I still love them just as much. There's nothing better for when you're hungry and stuck in traffic in Xochimilco. The first time I saw an
alegría pepitoria, clutched in the hand of a Mexico City street vendor, I wasn't exactly sure what it was. "Alegrías!" the vendor yelled. "Diez pesos!" The item, wrapped in cellophane, looked like a half-moon shaped party favor -- one of those bright, tissue-paper spheres that you unfold and hang from the ceiling. Except it had little pumpkin-seed teeth lining its edges. I wondered about the alegría pepitoria for a long time -- what do Mexicans do with this? Do people really have that many fiestas, where they feel the need to buy party favors on the street? -- until finally, when I was in traffic one day, I saw a family buy a package. The father opened it, pulled one out and ate it. It was food! Of course it was food. But still: This thing looked like a paper taco that had the air sucked out of it. What...? Why...? Strolling through the Alameda Central last Friday, my curiosity finally got the best of me. I bought a package and carefully laid it in my bag, so I could bite into later it at home and savor the first bite. That evening, I tore open the package. I took out a pink one -- three or four were included in the package -- and bit into it. CRUNCH. Whoa. That was a seriously massive crunch. And then... oh. [Picture me munching thoughtfully.] This was like a wafer. Thin, sugary, but not too sweet. And wow. The pumpkin seeds were attached to the edges with honey. I'd wondered about that. I bit into it a few more times, each bite capturing the same crunch you'd get biting into a fresh carrot. Took a picture before I could demolish the whole thing. Next time I'm hungry for something sweet on the street, I'm buying a package of these odd little guys. And if anyone out there knows the history of how they're made, please fill me in. All I could find on the Internet was info about the other Mexican alegrías -- the bars made from honey and amaranth grain.