Monday, October 4, 2010

My Mexico City Experience - Pulque

My experience from the drink called pulque is a direct result of the fact that I had a rather different introduction to Mexico City.

Tourists to Mexico City will see a number of the "usual" sites - the Zocalo (the main city square), the historic downtown, the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Bellas Artes art gallery, and the canals at Xochimilco, with guided boat tours are a few examples of the most common, and are all very well worth the visit. However, as one friend of mine pointed out, two people could live their entire life in the city with almost no significant overlap in the places they know, things they see and communities they visit.  Mexico City is the second most populous metropolitan area in the world (after Tokyo) and I'm sure this is true of most of the world's mega cities.  I was fortunate enough to have the experience of being a part of 2 multi-day tours by two such people, whose lives in Mexico City had very little overlap.

Extracting the sap from an agave plant
One part of one of the tours (given by the same friend who made that observation) was my first experience with the drink called pulque. Pulque is an ancient drink made of the agave plant - the large, spiky plant that looks like a giant aloe vera.  It is slightly fermented, but not distilled. Tequila is made from another type of the same plant.  Pulque was made by the Aztecs and other tribes in the area.  Some people say it was a sacred drink.  One tequila-like liquor called mezcal, which has a stronger oak-like flavor, may have been made before the Spanish Conquest.  Tequila, in any case, was a distilled drink developed during colonial times, based on these original drinks.

The drink has a milky colour and varies in texture from as runny as milk to as thick as a milk shake.  It's flavor is rather sour, and can be a little harsh at first.  I was lucky enough to try in it in a place where they mixed it with fruit juices, making it much easier to drink.

The bar itself was an interesting experience.  My friend was quick to point out to me that Mexico City is generally not a good place to try pulque, which is produced at a better quality in the small towns in the surrounding areas.  But this bar was one of the few with good quality.  The bar was located on a small, stone-paved side road in a working class community in the south of city (I believe it was in the borough called Tlalpan), and there were only men inside, (and one cross-dresser who was raising a bit of ruckus between two groups of guests.)  The washroom was a trough at the back, sectioned off by a screen.  While I take pride in the fact that I don't shy away from most experiences, I have to admit that I may not have gone into the place if I hadn't been with this friend of mine.
Serving pulque into a clay cup
Since it was mixed with fruit juice, the pulque tasted good.  The texture took some getting used to since it was the thick kind, but I did fine with about two litres - or at least I thought I did.  What I didn't fully realize, despite my friend's warnings, was that the effects of pulque are delayed.  Two hours later my stomach was rumbling, and it felt like it was turning loops inside of me.  At this point we were back home, and I slept soundly for the next few hours!

The next time I had pulque was at my wedding.  My wife, who is Mexican, and was my other tour guide on my initial visit to Mexico City, has uncles who live in the surrounding towns and make their own pulque.  This time it was thinner with a milder flavor, but no fruit juice to go with it.  I definitely drank some, but less than two litres!

So, if you get a chance to visit a smaller community in the center in Mexico (or you have the fortune and the courage to visit a bar like I did - make sure you go with a friend who knows the place and knows its culture) I suggest trying pulque.  Don't expect to like it - at least not on the first cup full.  But finish it if you can, and I'm sure by then you'll be ready for the second cup.

To read about another traditional fermented Mexican drink, read:

Tepache - A Fermented Pineapple Drink

1 comment:

  1. The effects of pulque are great, the most similar effect would be like are like a lazy day wake n bake... me thinks