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A two-scoop vaso of pine nut and nanche.

Image: Alice Levitt

I spent last week in the Yucatan, reconnecting with something important to me: nieves. I was ignorant of the Italian ice-style treat until I visited Oaxaca last summer. How life has changed since then! Last week, there was one day in which I got three different cups of the stuff while wandering Mexico City on a long layover. But my binge wasn't over. This weekend, I was in search of more. But instead, I turned up a different treat. 

The digital menu inside Paleteria La Real Michoacana on Airline Drive lists 22 different flavors of nieve, everything from grape to snack cake. But I quickly realized this frozen dessert wasn't the one I was seeking. My understanding of nieve was that it was made without cream, somewhere between sorbet and shaved ice. If I'm looking for full-on, creamy ice cream, I look for helado. But at La Real Michoacana, the stuff labeled "nieve" is definitely ice cream.

But I overcame my disappointment quickly. Would I order the dried fruit flavor? The mamey? The Strawberry Milk, which I envisioned as pink Nesquik in frozen form, without the bunny?

Though I wasn't particularly hungry, I ordered a cup filled with two flavors for just over $2. It overflowed with piñon, or pine nut, ice cream, the flavor liberally scooped on top. Why was it pink? Who cares? Though it looked more bubble gum (another available flavor) than tree seed, the dense scoop was flecked with real pine nuts and tasted satisfactorily like the genuine issue.

But I preferred the nanche (or nance) ice cream. The tropical byrsonima crassifolia produces fruit that look much like cherries. In fact, La Real Michoacana identifies the fruit in English as "yellow cherry." But its flavor, closer to caramelized tomato jam, yields no similarities to the cherries we're used to in North America. The combination of acid and caramel sweetness lends itself particularly well to ice cream. And tiny chunks of the chewy fruit assure that the flavor is natural. Next time, I'm likely to go straight for the nanche. But first, I'll be looking for more sources of the icy nieve I crave.

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