Flash in the Pan 

Mango madness

On paper, a mangoneada has no business tasting this good. There are too many big personalities involved, too many loud notes of sour, salty, sweet and heat. It's too crazy a combination to work. But it does, because somehow these contrasting flavors play remarkably well together.

From place to place, this refreshing treat is also called a mangonada or chamango. As its names suggest, the dish is built upon mango. The sweet fruit is combined with chile powder, lime, salt and a sour spicy sauce called chamoy. A mangoneada is as visually stunning as it is daring of flavor. The bright mango lights up the dark red chamoy like a desert sunset on red rocks.

Chamoy is typically made with pickled apricots or plums, and chile, lime, sugar and salt. In a mangoneada, additional lime and chile powder are added. Doubling up on these caustic ingredients creates a red sauce that could fairly be called the opposite of mango. This chamoy-based slurry is at once too spicy, too sour and too salty. But in mango, the sharp red slurry finds a sweet, fragrant dance partner. The mangoneada is evidence that a marriage of opposites can work.

Mangoneadas come from the Mexico/California border region and today can be found in Mexican treat shops, which are called neverias or paleterias. These establishments serve fruity popsicles and ice cream concoctions, and are found in highest concentrations in the southwest. But recently, paleterias and neverias have been popping up in big cities nationwide.

A mangoneada can be served any number of ways. It comes as an icy drink, with swirled layers of mango slush and chamoy sauce. In San Diego, "chamango" specifically refers to this presentation, and often contains tamarind as well.

Another common incarnation of mangoneada is chunks of mango that have been tossed, drizzled or drenched in chamoy. These dressed pieces of fruit can in turn be layered in a cup with mango slush or sorbet. The sorbet can be made by blending mango with fresh orange juice. The straw can be dusted with tamarind powder.

My first mangoneada was built around a mango popsicle that was frozen in a plastic cup, with a wooden stick protruding. When I placed my order in that Albuquerque paleteria, the popsicle was removed from the cup, and a dose of chamoy was deposited in its place. Limes were squeezed and more red chile powder added. The popsicle was returned to the cup, squeezing the chamoy-based slurry around the popsicle, coating all sides. The drill, I quickly understood, was to lick or bite the popsicle through the slurry, coating my face red if necessary, before returning the popsicle to the cup for a chamoy reload.

  • photo by Ari LeVaux

Although somewhat under the radar among gringos, mangoneadas probably won't remain a cult dish for long. They have a way of evoking a certain giddy goofiness among fans, who seem eager to publicly share their love for it. Instagram is full of mangoneada portraits, and Twitter is full of confessions of love and lust for its many forms:

"Bring me a mangoneada right now and I'll love you forever."

"His name is Chamango :) I think he. Loves me too."

"99 problems, and a mangoneada solves all of them."

"Quiero mangonada."

Of its many names, I prefer the "mangoneada" spelling because it's the most interesting. The word "chamango" was obviously created from "chamoy" and "mango." And while there is no Spanish translation for "mangonada," it sounds a bit like limonada, aka lemonade. To be honest, the first time I ordered one, I assumed I was getting mango lemonade.

"Mangoneada" is a conjugation of the verb mangonear, which means to boss around, abuse or generally mess with for ill-gotten personal gain. Or, as Anahi Gildo Beltran, who sells homemade mangoneadas from a cooler-equipped push-cart at a Los Angeles park, told me by phone: "Mangoneada means when you grab somebody and shake them."

The assertive flavors of a mangoneada do add up to a shakedown for your mouth, like getting worked over in a sweet, refreshing way. And while it's hard to go wrong with mango, much of the credit for a mangoneada's unique flavor goes to the chamoy and its unusual sour flavor.

Chamoy is thought to be a descendent of umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum paste. Commercial preparations can be purchased at Mexican grocery stores, and the "ethnic" aisles of many supermarkets. It can also be ordered online. Alas, most store-bought chamoy is not made with real fruit. Trechas brand, for example, is made from water, iodized salt, red peppers, citric acid, corn starch, sugar, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate and Red No. 40.

There's a part of me that wants to advise you against resorting to using store-bought chamoy. But the reality is, the mangoneada boom was built on this processed stuff, so using bottled chamoy is as authentic as it gets. But if one wants to go rogue, many recipes can be found online that combine apricot jam, lime, chile powder and salt. One can also try to fake it with fresh apricots, which happen to be in season. Mangoes, conveniently, are in season as well. But if you do try to make it at home, you should have a bottle of commercial chamoy on hand, just to know what you are aiming for.

To make a mangoneada, mix your chamoy with some form of mango, be it a popsicle, fresh chunks or icy slurry. Season with more lime and chile powder, and perhaps tamarind. And let the games begin.

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