Sweet Times in Morelia, Michoacán – An Interview With Carmela Alegre
Our inaugural kick-off to “Mosaic” starts off with Carmela Alegre, a candy vendor from Morelia, Michoacán, a city regarded as one of Mexico’s colonial treasures with a very strong sweet tooth to boot. Carmela runs her shop, “Carmelita”, which can be found inside the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías in the heart of the city.
1. Carmela, please tell us a little about yourself and how you started in the candy-selling business.
Well, first off, I’m a happily married mother of two and originally from here in Morelia. And though I have lived here my whole life, I didn’t start off selling candy. I originally started working at a health products store where we sold medicinal items, herbs and other natural products. I really liked working there a lot, but in time I became involved in this business through my father who was a candy distributor back in the day. I guess I’ve been here now for over ten years. I love it and I’m not sure if you know, but this Mercado used to be located in front of the Cathedral.
2. Can you share some specifics about your location?
Sure, we are located, as you know inside the “Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías” which is situated between Madero Avenue and Santiago Tapia Street. My shop is called “Carmelitas”, and is on the west side of the Mercado. Usually we are open seven days a week from 8am-10pm during the peak season of Christmas, Easter and summer. At other times, we open from 12 noon until about 8:30pm.
3. Now to the good stuff, tell us about the goodies you sell.
Oh my, there’s so much to share with you. Let me begin by telling you that all the candies we sell here are from Morelia or the surrounding areas. We have a huge selection that includes everything from “Morelianas”, “rollo de guayaba”, “Chongos Zamoranos ”, to the local favorite, “ate”.
4. Can you please take us down the list of those you mentioned and tell us what they are?
Of course! The “Morelianas” are small disk-shaped candies made of “leche quemada” (burnt milk). Sometimes goats’ milk is used for these and they are very popular, not only here, but throughout Mexico. The “rollo de guayaba” is a paste obviously made from the guava fruit with small traces of quince added. The “Chongos Zamoranos” are basically caramelized milk curds that come in different flavors like vanilla and cinnamon.
Lastly, the “ate” (pronounced: ahhh-teh) is probably the one most known here in Morelia and if you visit the candy museum here in town, you can even see a demonstration of how it’s made. The “ate” is a traditional candy that dates back to the Spanish nuns and is prepared by using the paste from the guava fruit and mixing it with sugar, all under high heat. It comes in two forms; you can either buy it as a fruit paste or in a “belt” form.
5. What are your “hottest” sellers and do you have any personal favorites?
Quite honestly, they all sell pretty well! Personal favorites…hmmm? I would have to say any candy made out of tamarind and “cocada horneada”, which is a coconut-based candy that’s baked.
6. Now, getting away from questions about the candy business, what would you want people to know about Morelia?
There’s so much to tell about Morelia! But, I would say that there is a lot to discover here with our colonial history and our beautiful architecture. More importantly, we have great people here who are very friendly and respectful to tourists and locals alike.
7. Please share with us your favorite places in the state of Michoacán.
I have a couple that come to mind. First, there’s the Parque Nacional de Uruapan and secondly it would have to be the tiny island of Janitzio on nearby Lake Pátzcuaro. Both places are very special, especially for nature lovers like myself.
8. Here’s our last question. What place in Mexico have you not visited, but would like to some day? Why?
Wow, there are so many places I would love to visit someday! I guess the two that really stand out are the Riviera Maya and Chiapas. I want to go see the beaches in the Riviera Maya because they look so nice on TV and it would be a dream trip for me. Chiapas is attractive because of the abundance of nature that’s found there. As I mentioned previously, nature really inspires me so Chiapas would definitely be a place on my list.
My sincere thanks goes out to Carmela for being so generous with her time during our interview. If you happen to be in Morelia, stop on by and pay Carmela a visit, your sweet tooth will thank you!
Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías
On Galeana Street between Avenida Madero & Santiago Tapia Street
**Note** Interview originally conducted in Spanish and later translated into English
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