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MEXICAN CANDY SHOPS, MARKETS AND DULCERIAS

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Wander through streetside markets in any town in Mexico, and you'll notice something they all have in common. Candy.

Dulces, Mexican candies
Dulces, Mexican candies
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

These sweets are not your everyday lollipops, mints and jelly beans. Instead, you'll find more than 200 varieties of candy, sold in bricks, cellophane wrappers and pretty baskets. Each region has its own specialties.

Traditional Mexican candies are sweeter, gooier and more flavourful than North American sweets. Moreover, they contain no artificial flavours and preservatives.

History of candy making

The history of candy-making dates back to the Spanish colonial era in the 16th century, when Franciscan and Dominican monks planted orchards of European fruits like apples, plums, peaches, pears and quince.

Candied fruits in Morelia's Mercado de Dulces
Candied fruits in Morelia's Mercado de Dulces
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Local families, who helped harvest the fruit, often found themselves with a surplus which they had to preserve quickly before it spoiled. They boiled the fruit with sugar, stirring it in large copper pots, until it became a thick paste or ate.

When visiting bishops and viceroys arrived, nuns from early religious orders treated them to sweets made with readily available local ingredients. One of these "convent sweets," which is still popular today, is huevos reales, or "royal eggs." The baked eggy sponge is soaked in cinnamon-flavoured syrup and sprinkled with sherry or rum and slivered almonds.

Morelia candy stores

One of the best places to learn about candy-making history is at Dulces Morelianos, in Morelia, a colonial city, one hour by air, west of Mexico City. The dulceria (candy store), like many in Mexico, has been owned by the same family for generations. The Torres family began making candies here in the 1890s.

Fruit ates candy (Dulces Morelianos)
Fruit ates candy (Dulces Morelianos)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In a large glass case, miniature people in a model kitchen boil fruits in large cauldrons, roll out sweet confections and cut them into fancy shapes. A switch sets them all in motion.

The most famous candies in Morelia are Morelianas, tortilla-shaped dulces de leche (milk candies), which taste like caramel. After the Spanish introduced dairy cattle to Mexico, in 1530, the nuns began incorporating milk into their candies.

Dulce de leche milk candies

Today, depending on the location, you can find dulces de leche in all shapes, flavours and colours. Look for cajeta, made from sweet, thickened goat's milk, flavoured with vanilla, caramel, strawberry, banana and other fruit flavours. It's great on its own, stuffed into pastries, crepes and even spread on toast.

Rompope
Rompope
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

You can often find cans of chongas zamoranos in most dulcerias. These caramelized milk curds, flavoured with cinnamon or vanilla, are twisted into topknots or chongas.

Most dulcerias sell rompope, an eggnog-like concoction accented with rum. Mexicans pour it over Jello and rice pudding. You can also sip it as an after-dinner drink.

Visually, the most impressive dulces are the crystallized whole figs, plums and strawberries, and chunks of yam, melon, pumpkin, pear, pineapple and orange (including rind). Red, green and topaz-coloured ates are also very attractive when sliced and served alternating with slices of fresh white cheese, a popular dessert.

Coconut candy, nut and seed brittles

Coconut appears in a variety of candies, caramelized into mounds, for cocadas, or sweetened and stuffed into candied lime and guava rinds. Brittles are also ubiquitous, crunchy with almonds, pine nuts, sesame seeds and pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

Be prepared for the unusual. Hot chiles sometimes enliven tamarind paste. Outside the Museum of Mummies in Guanajuato, vendors sell candies shaped like mummies and skulls. You may also encounter these macabre sweets at Day of the Dead festivities, held throughout the country on November 2.

Mexican candy (dulces)
Mexican candy (dulces)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Chocolate bars and candies, as we know them, are rare in the country which gave the world chocolate. Most Mexicans consume chocolate as a hot drink or in dishes like mole poblano (chicken in a sauce with dozens of ingredients, including chocolate). Occasionally, you'll find thick patties of chocolate, ground with almonds and sugar, and scented with cinnamon and vanilla.

Every Mexican has a sweet tooth. So will every visitor, after sampling delectable Mexican treats. It's impossible to try all candies on any single trip to Mexico, so every visit will be a delicious voyage of discovery.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Mexico Tourist Board: www.visitmexico.com

More things to see and do in Mexico:

Queretaro Mexico - What to See

Patzcuaro Mexico Trip

San Miguel de Allende Mexico Travel Information

Mexican Restaurant Offers Matchmaking Services

Mexican Cooking