The Traditional Drinks of Mexico

Given this year's incredibly hot Austin summer, you might enjoy trying some of the fabulously refreshing traditional cold drinks of Mexico. Chronicle Cuisines writer Wes Marshall shows you how to concoct them.

The Traditional Drinks of Mexico
Photo By John Anderson

Every town in Mexico, from mammoth Mexico City to miniscule Tzintzuntzan, has someone selling the fabulously refreshing traditional cold drinks of Mexico from carts on the streets. The most famous are Horchata (made with rice, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar), Licuados (various fruits mixed with either orange juice or milk and zizzed in a blender), and Aguas Frescas (made with fruit and water in a blender). After a hot day at the mercado, these rejuvenating elixirs bring you back to life. Healthier, tastier, and cheaper than refrescos (soft drinks), the drinks come in every flavor, color, and size imaginable. Customers receive a serving ladled from a huge, ice-cold glass jar, usually several gallons in size. Take your drink to a shady spot at the zócalo, sit down, and be transported to a place of cool ocean breezes.

Given this year's incredibly hot Austin summer, we thought you might enjoy trying some of these drinks. Below, you'll find some fairly easy recipes to make on your own. Or, try to find a restaurant or store with more mejicanos than gringos and you'll probably find a row of big glass jars filled with some of the recipes below. Two of my favorites are the Horchata at Taqueria Arandas ($1.50, 2448 S. First, 707-0887) and the Melón (cantaloupe) Agua Fresca at Acapulco Video ($1, 2009 E. Seventh St., 482-0215).

Agua Fresca de Melón

Makes 2 drinks

2 cups ripe cantaloupe

1 cup cold water

Juice of one Key lime

3-4 ice cubes

Remove all seeds from the cantaloupe. Dig out the meat, taking care not to get any of the bitter green edges. Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Serve in a cold glass.

Horchata

Note: Horchata is available in powdered form at the Fiesta Mart (the huge grocery store at 3909 N. I-35) if you don't want to go to the trouble of making it from scratch. However, it is so good from scratch, at least try it once.

Makes 4 drinks

2/3 cup white rice

7 ounces blanched (not roasted) almonds

1 cinnamon stick (preferably Vietnamese, about three inches long)

1 cup white sugar

1. Using either a spice grinder or a blender, crush the rice into a fine powder.

2. Place the rice powder, almonds, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Cover with three cups of hot tap water. Cover bowl with a towel and let it sit on the counter overnight.

3. Put the mixture in the blender, add another cup of water, and run at high speed for five minutes.

4. Wet three or four layers of cheesecloth and line a strainer. Pour the rice mixture through cheesecloth into a mixing bowl. When all is poured through, grab the corners of the cheesecloth and enclose the rice mixture to assure none escapes, then squeeze all remaining liquid into the mixing bowl.

5. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

6. The mixture will probably require about two more cups of water. At this point, the liquid should be about as thick as half & half. If needed, add some more water to bring to proper consistency.

7. Taste to see if you would prefer more sugar.

8. Refrigerate for two to three hours.

9. Serve over ice.

Note: If you want a treat with a little kick, add a shot of Kahlua.

Agua Fresca de Pepino

Makes 4 drinks

3 large cucumbers

1é3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1é2 cup sugar

8 cups of water

1. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop the cucumbers. Place in blender.

2. Add one cup of the water and blend at high speed for two minutes.

3. Strain cucumber concoction through fine strainer to remove seed and any pulp left over.

4. Add remaining seven cups of water.

5. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

6. Refrigerate for two hours. Add more sugar if desired.

7. Serve over ice.

Agua Fresca de Sandía

Makes 2 drinks

3 cups ripe watermelon

3 cups cold water

1é2 teaspoon of salt

Remove as many seeds as possible from watermelon. Don't drive yourself crazy with it, though. In Mexico, you always find a black residue at the bottom of the glass jars from ground-up seeds. The Mexicans don't worry too much about seeds, which add a distinctive flavor. Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Serve over ice.

Licuado de Agua y Piña

Makes 2 drinks

1 pound very ripe pineapple

1 cup of cold water

1 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice

Juice of one Key lime

3 tablespoons of sugar

2 ice cubes

1. Peel and core the pineapple. Coarsely chop.

2. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

3. Strain though a sieve and serve in a cold glass.

Licuado de Leche y Mango

Makes 2 drinks

1 pound of cleaned, very ripe mango

1 pint of cold whole milk

3 tablespoons sugar

2 ice cubes

1. Clean the mango and coarsely chop it.

2. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

3. Strain though a sieve and serve in a cold glass.

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