Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Man seeks mango, part 2
My quest for fresh chili mango took me further out into City Heights. I followed a tip from a guy I know who said there was a place, "out by University and Euclid, but maybe it's El Cajon, I don't know" where I could mango and maybe even mangoneada (the frozen version). I checked both those intersections, ventured almost out the college area to make sure, and then doubled back and checked a place I had spotted in the vicinity of 42nd street. Hungry and overheated, I parked my bike out front of Fruit Bar La Especial (4218 University Avenue) with mangoes on the mind.
Shadowy and cool inside, it was more of a produce and meat market than anything else. Stacks of fruits and vegetables filled the center of the store and a deli case filled with uncooked carnitas and carne asade lurked forlornly at the back of the store. I saw few customers, but they must come in at some point because the store's inventory was plentiful. There was a little rack with packaged, Mexican sweets, one of which was dried mango floating in chamoy, but that just didn't seem right.
Painted on the wall at the back were the words "Fruit Bar" in bright, pastel colors along with a menu of smoothies and snacks that the bar allegedly served up. There, near the end of the menu, it said "chili mango."
When he saw me reading of the menu, the guy behind the counter shook his head in an effort to discourage me. My Spanish being pretty pitiful, all things considered, I did my best to extract his meaning. As far as I could tell, they just don't do the fruit bar anymore at Fruit Bar.
I must have looked crestfallen as I tried to ask the guy if he knew where I could get a cup of chili mango. When he figured out that was all I wanted, he intimated that he could make me one and I followed him down the length of the counter to a dark prep station where he grabbed a few mangoes, peeled them, and filled a plastic cup with the cubed flesh.
"Salt and lime?" he asked?
"Chamoy?" I asked him in turn.
He responded by pouring bright, red chamoy over the fruit cup until the little chunks of golden mango were adrift in a briny, spicy sea. I thanked him profusely and tried to ask if this was something he could do every day, or if he just did it for me.
I'll be damned if I could tell what he said. I really need to learn more Spanish.
The woman at the counter charged me all of $2 for the mango. I also spotted, in a miniature freezer at the front-left corner of the store, some frozen "diablitos" (spicy frozen fruit treats) that looked like they were hand made and sealed in sandwich bags by somebody's mom. Not convenient for eating on a bike...but maybe some other time.
I wouldn't say I've solved the problem of spicy-mango-on-demand, because I don't think I could waltz into La Especial at any given point in any given day and demand chamango.
But I am getting closer.