If you've eaten those garnet-hued camote (sweet potato) nuggets and amber chunks of candied calabaza (squash) at local dulcerias , chances are they're from East L.A.'s La Zamorana. Since 1957, this tiny family-run factory has been churning out the authentic Mexican candies you wish your abuela still stashed in your lunch sack.
Founder José Mendez immigrated to Los Angeles from Zamora de Hidalgo in Michoacán, otherwise known as the candy capital of Mexico. Mendez first hit East L.A. with a single street cart full of tarugo (tamarind pulp candies); Today his son, Vicente, and grandchildren keep our sweet tooth happy. Besides, this is vegetable candy. So it's healthy, right?
But 23-year-old grandson Vince sees increasing global competition as a potential threat to the local sweet life. “Mexico has been exporting candies at really low prices recently because they don't have to follow the regulations we do,” says the youngest Mendez. Judging by the dulceria owners who drive down from as far as Sacramento to restock their shelves, it's pretty clear this is still considered the real camote and calabaza deal.
La Zamorana Candy is available at Vallarta supermarkets in L.A. and many small markets. For more locations, visit zamoranacandy.com, or call (323) 261-1817.
Our Best of L.A. issue is now out; this is one of over 400 pieces in this year's issue. Check it out.
More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com.