Story by Aaron Kandell
photo by Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams
“The world divides into two categories,” Joshua Welch proclaims as he hands guava-tamarind popsicles to the pack of eager 8-year-olds crowding around his farmers market booth. “Light and delicious or rich and creamy. Fortunately we offer both.”
Pop culture: Brothers Joshua and Joe Welch have brought the tradition of Mexican paletas, or popsicles, to the Islands with their gourmet OnoPops
Last summer O‘ahu brothers Joshua and Joe set out to fulfill a locavore’s dream: to combine the tropical flavors of Hawai‘i with the art of Mexican paletas. The result was OnoPops, an organic popsicle of oddball flavors like butter mochi, pineapple li hing and apple banana cream pie.
The origins of the modern popsicle can be traced back to 1940s street vendors in Tocumbo, Michoacán on Mexico’s Pacific coast. “Paleta” is Spanish for “little stick,” and unlike the mass-produced, chemically enhanced American popsicle, OnoPops’ handmade beauties are individually crafted from the freshest ingredients. “We get all our ingredients straight from local farms, so you taste the quality immediately.” Joe boasts. “We try to keep our pops as pure and healthy as possible.” Their lychee pop, for instance, consists of only two ingredients: lychee and water.
Still, the process of creating the perfect paleta is labor-intensive, requiring a Wonkaesque imagination. Some popsicles involve over a dozen steps, from chopping fruit to blending, baking, folding and freezing. The result is deliciously simple, with each flavor striking a do-re-mi across the palate, like those in their popular water-melon gazpacho pop: fresh-cut watermelon, cucumber and a spicy cayenne finish.
The brothers Welch have concocted over thirty-six flavors, and they’re always freezing up exotic new combinations based on what’s seasonal. Ume-Thai basil, Kona latte and mango-habanero are among the favorites. And while they peddle theirheat-relief treats for $3 a pop from a vintage pushcart, they dream of soon opening a storefront paletería like the ones you find in any town plaza in Mexico.
For now you can find them at Saturday’s farmers market at Kaiser High School (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Wednesday at the Blaisdell Center (4 to 7 p.m.), or any time at Whole Foods and Kokua Market.