The official kickoff to summer, the 2019 Living Traditions Festival is coming May 17-19 to the Salt Lake City and County Building and Library Square! It’s a great opportunity to learn more about performing and craft artists from all over the world. Here is the latest in a series of blogs from the Salt Lake City Arts Council to help you get the most out of the experience.

As the Living Traditions Festival nears, many people ask “What’s new?” in 2019. Well, the short answer is, there are lots of changes in store. Later this month, festival attendees will see new performing groups, a series of free hands-on workshops [registration required] and perhaps one area of particular interest; international cuisine. The long-standing food vendors will serve up festival favorites along 200 East as in years past. However, there’s a twist in the culinary row featuring all-new dessert options courtesy of La Michoacana Ice Cream & Paletas.

One of the great debacles people have at the festival is what to eat every year. With more than 20 different vendors from all over the world, it’s a debacle of the ages; to get the same food year after year or branch out and try something new. The struggle is real, yet the food options are plentiful.

As for that “What’s New?” question, the festival injects some new life into the Mexican cuisine offerings this year, especially in the sweet treat department. There are lots of people in Salt Lake City who naturally associate Mexico with traditional desserts including churros or tres leches.  When asked about favorite dessert treats, University of Utah graduate student Mitch Shields said, “I prefer the go-to, sure-fire options like flan and empanadas.” With a mother from Argentina and having lived in Chile, Shields knows a thing or two about genuine cuisine from Mexico down to South America.

According to La Michoacana’s owner Samuel Terrazas, serving up authentic, real Mexican ice cream and paletas (Mexico’s version of an ice pop) is a family affair. During a busy Cinco de Mayo weekend, Samuel’s sister works the counter at La Michoacana’s ice cream shop tucked away in a Taylorsville strip mall; which also includes a local Mexican Restaurant and Peruvian joint next door. Having opened its doors after Thanksgiving last year, business is booming. The Terrazas family is filling a niche market. In just several months, they have hired additional staff and continue to thrive as time goes by. According to Samuel’s sister Yahaira, she sees a range of customers but would guess that the clientele is about 70 percent Hispanic and the remainder from other backgrounds.

In short, paletas look like regular juice bars or ice pops in shape and appearance, but this5 isn’t a run-of-the-mill dessert found at any area supermarket. Made in-house, paletas fall under two main categories:  bars with dairy and those made with juice and fresh fruit. While La Michoacana serves the mainstay flavors like strawberry, mango or lime, it’s the more traditional flavors which draw the masses. Where else in the valley can you get an avocado paleta with the sugary sweetness of ice cream as well as the consistency and taste from real avocados? They also have various, juice and fruit-based paletas made with chili powder to provide the best of both worlds; the sweet AND salty.

In addition to paletas, the shop serves all kinds of traditional ice cream and specialty flavors as well. Of course there’s Horchata, which is popular because it’s a traditional sweet beverage often paired with Mexican food. And for the young or young at heart, 3there’s bubble gum ice cream or a custom flavor called “Cookie Monster,” filled with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies in a blue ice cream base. On a late evening, the shop may even have a few scoops left of its tequila ice cream. While it’s not made from actual tequila with alcohol, the flavor is a high-demand option; in part because it’s not standard dessert fare in Utah.

Be sure to keep an eye out for La Michoacana & Paletas at this year’s Living Traditions Festival. Its most popular offerings like paletas are relatively inexpensive and a nice way to complete the Living Traditions food experience. The desserts are unlike anything served in the suburbs or urban sprawl through the Greater Salt Lake area. In a valley filled with everything from Coldstone Creameries to literally dozens of soda and sugar cookie shops, La Michoacana & Paletas is doing just fine and gives Salt Lake-area residents something outside the norm and hopefully will do so as the word spreads.

By preserving the cultural traditions of their community, Living Traditions artists make a great contribution to our sense of place and help demonstrate Salt Lake City as a diverse and vibrant place to live. With over 90 cultures represented, we hope that each festival attendee will gain pride and identity for the community as a whole.

Interesting Facts on Utah’s Hispanic Population and Culture
Why Culture Matters