Two of my favorite words during this humid, hot summer: shaved ice. Raspados, slushes, shave ice, however you like to say it or eat it—crushed or shaved ice sweetened with flavored syrup is one of the best things to consume when the temperature rises. Cholados from Colombia take shaved ice to another level. Not just one, but two syrups flavor the ice, usually maracuya (passion fruit) and mora (berry). Then the ice is covered with all kinds of fresh chopped fruit, lechera (sweetened condensed milk), coconut flakes, a little more condensed milk, and topped with a bright red maraschino cherry.
Served with a straw and a spoon, it's an icy drink and a tropical fruit cocktail all in one; cold and creamy, sweet and tart, juicy and crunchy and best of all, icy and refreshing. In Queens, there are storefronts that only make cholados and other icy treats, and cholado stands pop up in front of many Colombian bakeries when the weather heats up. With so many options, I wondered if I could find a cholado that rose above the rest, a cholado champion.
El Palacio de Los Cholados
El Palacio on Northern Boulevard specializes in cholados, a good place to begin. My favorite thing about this store is the cartoon sign next to the pick-up window that explains how to eat a cholado. Sabe como se come un cholado! Primero se toma con el pitillo el jugo, despues se come con una cucharra. (Know how to eat a cholado! First you drink the juice with a straw. Then you eat it with a spoon.) I like being told how to eat something. I've had cholados here before, and the one I ordered this week was made with a little less care than usual. The ice, crushed to order, was soaked in the two requisite syrups, passion and mora, but I couldn't really distinguish the passion fruit flavor. It was not topped with so much condensed milk that it became overly sweet, so that was a plus.
But the chopped fruit; overly large chunks of strawberry, cantaloupe and banana, were almost too bulky to pick up with a spoon. I missed the pineapple that I'd had on previous visits. A bit of coconut and a cherry topped off the cholado, but it just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. An off day at the palace.
Highlights: A shop that's dedicated to cholados, and tells you how to eat them.
83-18 Northern Boulevard, Jackson Heights (map)
Aqui Colombia Antojitos
The cholado at this bakery was good, but not great. It began with ice that was already crushed in a bag in the freezer, so it didn't have that fluffy texture. The two main syrups did not stand out from each other, and there was a touch too much condensed milk, so it was just sweet. The fruit was fresh. Halved strawberries, bits of mango, cantaloupe, and pineapple, with a nice addition of small red grapes. With the coconut and the cherry, it was traditional, but it did not stand out from the crowd.
Highlights: Red seedless grapes added flavor to the fruit mix.
81-08 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)
La Delicia en Pandebono y Cholados
La Delicia en Pandebono makes great pandebonos, empanadas, and other Colombian antojitos, and during the summer they have a little metal stand out front with all of the fixings for cholados. The cholado preparer here went a little lechera crazy. I watched as she drenched half of the freshly shaved ice with passion fruit syrup, the other half with mora, and then a huge puddle of condensed milk in the middle. Chopped mango, honeydew, cantaloupe and pineapple, then coconut, more lechera, a cherry, and a rolled chocolate wafer cookie for that extra little something. The fruit was fresh and a good size, not too big and not too small. But every sip I took from the straw brought straight condensed milk, which is not something I ever want to drink plain. A little less lechera and it would have been great.
Highlights: Chocolate cookie, fresh and good sized fruit.
40-23 82nd Street, Elmhurst (map)
Pecas y Mas
At Pecas y Mas, my cholado was made with so much love that it took almost ten minutes to prepare. And the girl who put it together went so overboard that the cup and cover could not contain the cholado, bursting to get out. The fruit was so finely chopped that it was difficult to discern what was in this ambitious dessert—but there was definitely papaya, a nice addition, plus mango, melon, pineapple, banana and strawberries. Because the fruit was so small, it was easy to mix in with the ice. The best part of the cholado at Pecas was that the passion fruit poured over the ice was completely unsweetened, and the tart, sour tanginess was surprising and refreshing after so much sweetness. Passion fruit was the star and the mora was barely noticeable. And while there was a fair amount of lechera, it never became overly sweet. The most unique cholado of the group.
Highlights: Addition of papaya, strong, sour passion fruit flavor.
44-20 Greenpoint Avenue, Sunnyside (map)
The Winner: Las Americas Bakery
The cholado made at the little stand in front of this bakery had everything and then some. The ice was shaved to order, the passion fruit and mora syrups were squeezed in abundance over the ice, with a stronger tang of the passion fruit more noticeable than the sweet red mora syrup. The condensed milk addition was enough to make the ice creamy but not too much to be cloying. The fruit: a winning combination of small chunks of strawberry, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, and sliced bananas were freshly chopped, small enough to be able to mix in with the ice, but large enough that each fruit was separate from the next. The sprinkling of coconut and the cherry were topped by the addition of a rolled wafer cookie. Crunchy, sweet, icy, and fresh.
Highlights: Strong passion fruit flavor, perfectly sized fruit, not too sweet.
40-30 82nd Street, Elmhurst (map)
There are many more places across Queens that serve this unique, summery sweet.
Where do you get your favorite cholados? And what other shaved ice concoctions keep you cool?