Traditional Oaxacan Drinks: Chocolate and Agua de Chilacayota
As I mentioned in my last post about Oaxacan food, there are many traditional Oaxacan foods that begin with the letters c and ch (che), so here is part four of Oaxacan Food from A to Z where we will explore two Oaxacan drinks.
Many people are aware that the word chocolate comes from the Nahuatl xocolātl and that it has important historical and cultural significance for Mexico and Mesoamerica. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao (Theobroma cacao) tree native to tropical Central and South America.
In Oaxaca the cacao beans are roasted and ground with cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes other recipes add vanilla or nuts to create a solid block of chocolate. Chocolate for drinking is traditionally consumed as a hot beverage, made by adding a solid chunk of it to boiling water and then mixing and frothing with a carved wooden stick called a molinillo.
Chocolate is served with sweet bread and enjoyed hot with or without milk added.
Agua de Chilacayota
I remember the first time that I tried agua de chilacayota, I was with my wife in the Xochimilco neighbourhood and she bought some from the woman who always sells aguas frescas outside the church and to this day hers is the best that I have ever tried. I had always seen this drink, but wasn’t quite sure what it was or how it tasted, and I am thankful that my wife introduced me to it.
This cooling sweet drink is made from a dark green stringy squash called Chilacayota (Cucurbita ficifolia). The texture of the chilacayota is similar to spaghetti squash because of its stringy flesh and was given the name “angel hair squash” when it was introduced to the Spanish and French.
It is native to the Americas, although the exact center of domestication is unclear. Linguistic evidence suggests Mexico, because of the wide use of names based on the Nahuatl name “chilacayohtli” as far south as Argentina. However, archaeological evidence suggests Peru because the earliest remains have been found there…Archeological records show that it was the most widespread variety of Cucurbita in the Americas, cultivated from northern Chile and Argentina to Mexico…In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans introduced it to the Mediterranean regions of Europe (specifically France and Portugal) as well as India. From there it has spread to many other parts of the world and picked up more names. Cucurbita ficifolia – Wikipedia
How to prepare Agua de Chilacayota
The video below shows how this delicious agua is prepared by cooking the flesh, skin and seeds of the chilacayota with panela (unrefined cane sugar), piña criolla (a small, sweet heirloom pineapple), canela (cinnamon) and cáscara de limón (lime zest). When you purchase this drink you are given both a straw and a spoon, for me eating the squash and its seeds is the best part.