Friday, April 9, 2010
The Beverages of Central Mexico
Agua de Frutas are everywhere in Mexico. They are served by the jarra (pitcher) or the glass. In street stalls they are served in bolsas (plastic bags) with a straw. Aguas are the beverage of choice with comida corrida. They come in a variety of flavors... lemon, lime, orange, jamaica, guayaba, pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberry... you name it. I have even had an agua with alfalfa in it. These are very easy to make... All you need is water, sugar and the your fruit of choice... Throw it all in a blender and wah-la!
When life gives you limas make limonada... We were incredibly lucky... while living in Mexico we had a lemon tree right outside our house that provides lemons year around... All we had to do is step out on the balcony and lemons were a short reach away... As a result of our good fortune lemonade was a staple in our house... Here is how we make it.
Take a bowl full of lemons, cut in half and squeeze out the juices until you have between a half a cup and a full cup... The amount depends on how tart the lemons are and how you like your lemonade... Pour this in a 2 liter pitcher with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar... Fill the pitcher up with water, stir and garnish with mint and lemon rounds.
Guayabas... These are little yellow roundish fruits...that in my opinion smell just like cat piss... Sound appetizing? Well oddly enough they are... In the streets the aguas de guayaba are pink... but when I have made them at home they always come out yellow. I am not certain, but I am reasonably sure that some sort of a coloring is added to the street version.
To make Agua de guayaba you simply take 5 or 6 guayaba fruits, 1/2 -3/4 C sugar and put it in a blender covered with water. Blend until smooth, add mixture to a 2 liter pitcher and top off with water. Stir and serve.
Other Auga de Frutas... are made in the same way as the guayaba drink. Simply take the fruit of your choice and throw it in a blender with sugar and water. Some fruits, such as pineapple, are better if you strain out some of the pulp... The drinks here tend to be much thicker and textured than the juices in the United States, however. The seeds and pulp are part of the experience.
Horchata... is an agua made with rice. The rice is cooked and then soaked in water. The water is then drained and the rice is blended with almonds, sugar, cinnamon and more water. It is sometimes flavored with vanilla or chocolate. This is a cool and refreshing drink that tastes like a light malt or milkshake. It is great for a hangover.
Chocolate... is a popular beverage in Mexico. I have had it prepared two ways. One way is similar to hot chocolate in the states... You simply add chocolate tablets to milk while it’s heating and whip it into a frothy mix. I know that chocolate tablets from Mexico are available in most grocery stores in Texas... I am sure if you cannot find them there then a specialty market would probably have what you need.
The second way that I have had chocolate prepared is a drink called Champurrado. This uses a corn cereal or corn starch dissolved in water or milk (this mixture is called Atole which is also a wonderful beverage or breakfast cereal)... you then dissolve the chocolate tablets into this mixture. This beverage is often served with tamales and it will warm you to the core!
Alcoholic Beverages... When you saddle up to a bar in Mexico you will notice some key differences. Unless you are in a resort or coastal town it is unlikely that you will see the same varieties of alcohol that you see in most bars in the U.S. Ordering a whiskey sour or sex on the beach might get you some pretty strange looks. You will, however, find a new mix of interesting drinks.
One of my favorite discoveries here is a drink called a Michelada... It is an excellent drink for those days you are feeling a bit crudo (hung-over). It is similar to a bloody mary...but made with beer. Take the juice of a couple of limes, hot sauce (not the chunky kind, but the thin bottled stuff similar to tabasco), and a sauce that it similar to soy sauce. Place these ingredients in a salt rimmed glass over ice and then top with a cold beer...Very tasty!
Other popular drinks here are Mezcal and Tequila... These are both distilled beverages made from the agave plant. Mezcal is similar to tequila, but it is often considered to be of lower quality. What I have found, however, is that if you only have a small amount of money to spend a more expensive mezcal is often cheaper than and of better quality than a cheap tequila. Tequila is served in many ways. The most popular way is a shot served with a plate of limes and salt. A variation of this is served in three shot glasses... a shot of lime juice, a shot of tequila and a shot of tomato juice. ..The colors represent the colors of the Mexican flag. Tequila and mezcal are also served in a variety of cocktails. They are often mixed with refrescos such as fresca (not the watered down diet version available in the US, but a grapefruit soda that is really tasty) , squirt, or manzana (an apple soda). One of the most hilarious ways to drink tequila is a Che Cafe specialty...First you fill a shot glass 2/3 of the way full of tequila, and top off with a coffee liqueur. You then take the shot, swish it around in you mouth, lean your head back and ignite. Kids...don’t try this at home... and for gods sake don’t try it with straight tequila...you need an experienced bartender on hand to supervise.
One other drink made from the agave plant is called pulque... it has an interesting taste to say the least... I think that it deserves a whole story just for itself... so I'll save it for another day.
Do you like Pina Coladas? Well let me tell you about a great one that I had in Malinalco... After a wonderful meal of trout in mojo de ajo and potatoes we stopped at a little stand for a drink. The woman at the stand was making Pina Coladas in the shells of the pineapples. She took a pineapple and cut off the greenery at the top. She then took the top core and set it aside. She scooped out the fruit of the pineapple and put it in a blender with water. She blended it and strained out some of the pulp. The liquid was then placed back in the shell with ice, grenadine, cinnamon, tequila, rum and vodka (I was a bit concerned that the bottles were labeled rom and volka...but hey this was Mexico... what could possibly go wrong). It was garnished with a beautiful tropical flower and an umbrella made from the top core of the pineapple dipped in cinnamon.