[Photographs: Naomi Tomky]

Extra
Mexican Meals
Recetas deliciosas to move your tastebuds south of the border.
“What’s extra Mexican than pulque?”
Arturo Garrido Aldana asks me this query over the din of the gang at Pulqueria las Duelistas, his century-old pulqueria positioned in Mexico’s Centro Histórico. Behind him, workers ladle out numerous flavors of the normal drink into outsized Styrofoam and plastic cups, handing them over to ready patrons. On the entrance of the mural-covered room, a swamp cooler emits its sustained drone, indiscernible beneath the music pounding from the audio system. Right here, within the heart of Mexico’s capital, Garrido tells me pulque “is the guts of Mexico.”
Pulque is a pre-Hispanic beverage with a consistency paying homage to kombucha, if kombucha had been made out of okra. It’s about as alcoholic as beer, however it’s made out of the flippantly fermented sap of the agave—the identical plant that’s used to make tequila and mezcal. The flavour, when you purchase a style for it, is addictively zingy. Pure, or plain, pulque is an opaque milky colour however fizzy and shiny on the tongue. Candy, however not cloying, flippantly viscous however (assuming it’s contemporary) not slimy, and simply ever-so-subtly yeasty, just like the whiff of freshly risen bread dough hitting the oven. Most locations supply each plain or pure pulque and curado, or flavored, variations, which mood the drink’s tang however not its texture. And for many who take pleasure in it, pulque lives as much as its repute because the drink of the Gods: refreshing and eye-opening, satisfying and comforting. Even to those that discover the flavour or texture gross, it gives a comforting fullness (or, maybe, that is the sunshine buzz speaking?).
To provide pulque, the guts of a mature agave (maguey) plant is minimize out, making a cavity. The cavity is scraped, which induces the move of sap, referred to as aguamiel, into the cavity, the place it will get collected. Whereas the method for making mezcal and tequila requires that aguamiel be cooked, pulque is made by naturally fermenting the uncooked product in a cask. The fermentation occurs shortly, so shortly that the fermented liquid reaches its fizzy, low-alcohol last kind in a matter of hours.
The fast fermentation is accountable for two indelible traits of pulque: the most effective pulque is freshly made, and the drink doesn’t journey properly, each of which make it endemic to central Mexico. Consequently, its historical past is carefully intertwined with the historical past of the nation, from its pre-Hispanic origins to its present revival, and the assorted roles it has occupied are a mirrored image of that, too: It was believed to be the nectar of the gods; it turned the popular drink of emperors; extra lately, it was thought-about the scourge of the unwashed plenty, which led to its colonial-era ban; and now, lastly, it has turn out to be a beverage loved by old-timers and younger hipsters alike. The story of pulque is wealthy, deep, and greatest taken in with an extended, gradual pulls from a cacariza, the pockmarked glass container that’s as iconic in a pulqueria as a stein in a beer corridor.
Earlier than the method of distillation arrived in North America, pulque dominated the area of central Mexico. A mural in Cholula referred to as “Los Bebedores,” or “The Drinkers,” from 1000 CE gives the primary confirmed proof of pulque, however scientific analysis locations its origin way back to 200 CE. Pulque was considered a present from the gods: Mayahuel, goddess of maguey, gave pulque to the Aztecs, and it was a sip of pulque given to Quetzalcoatl by his brother, the god Tezcatlipoca, that intoxicated him and led him to desert his celibacy, which in flip made him determine to flee. (His return, in line with the legend, was to occur in a yr that coincided with the eventual arrival of Spanish colonizers.)
Tomato with oyster and celery pulque at La Cátedral del Pulque
Through the Aztec period, pulque was a sacred drink, a beverage reserved for the gods and their monks. When the Aztec empire fell, nevertheless, it turned a drink of the individuals, produced broadly across the central Mexican highlands, and a serious financial driver within the space. Through the colonial period, the Spanish Crown tried to outlaw pulque manufacturing, citing ties to non-Christian religions and claims that it brought on main well being and social points amongst indigenous individuals. (Ironic, provided that many indigenous peoples thought-about it healing.) However the financial energy of maguey put an finish to the prohibition in 1786: even in the course of the ban, the Crown was gathering hundreds of thousands of pesos in taxes on pulque.
By the Mexican Conflict of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, pulque remained an essential and valued beverage. However it was greater than only a drink: it was medication, tradition, and a major moneymaker. The introduction of railways sped the perishable drink from the manufacturing haciendas within the hills into the valley of Mexico Metropolis and different cities, the place there was rising demand. Towards the top of the 19th century, pulque was the principle alcoholic drink and maguey manufacturing occupied an outsize function in Mexican agriculture. Nonetheless, following the revolution, President Porfirio Díaz courted international funding—together with from breweries, which ended up pitting pulque in opposition to beer for drinkers’ pesos.
“Pulque,” says Mexico Metropolis–based mostly meals and journey author Arturo Torres Landa, “like many issues in Mexico, is a narrative of resistance.” When beer got here to Mexico, an aggressive advertising marketing campaign, assisted by authorities efforts to extend native demand for beer, sought to repeat the colonial-era framing of pulque as soiled and low-class, the stuff of a rural backwater. “It was seen as primitive and rustic,” Torres explains, which made it simpler for rumors to be unfold—usually assumed to originate from beer firms—that pulque was unhygienic and probably fermented with feces. However the drink persevered, a lot because it had via the destruction of an excellent civilization and the crush of a colonial energy.
At the moment, just like the dream of the 1890s, pulque’s resurgence serves for example of how all the things outdated will be new once more: at bars like Las Duelistas in Mexico Metropolis, three-day drunks bob their heads on the bar whereas younger hipsters share pitchers. Garrido purchased the 106-year-old bar 12 years in the past out of his love for pulque. He’d been working in pulquerias for the reason that ‘70s, and he heard enterprise at Las Duelistas was unhealthy and it might shut. So he purchased it. “How might I not?” he requested. The pulque-drinking crowd looks as if a jumble of individuals of all ages, however Torres says there’s a technology lacking—the one which lies between the younger individuals and hipsters who’ve fueled the drink’s revival and the older people “who grew up ingesting it prefer it was water.”
View of the room at Pulqueria las Duelistas
Whereas yow will discover pulque in different places—floating distributors within the canals of Xochimilco, at avenue markets, and nearly anyplace that sells the pit-cooked lamb referred to as barbacoa—the most effective choice comes from pulquerias, and they’re most actually the setting that greatest demonstrates central Mexico’s distinctive custom of pulque. Due to the restricted transportation and the restricted space the place the agave grows, the drink stays fairly native to Mexico Metropolis and surrounding Mexico State, and the close by states of Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Hidalgo. The brisker the pulque, the higher, cleaner, and extra refreshing the flavour; the drink’s texture can also be smoother when contemporary, because it tends to develop extra viscous over time and might tackle an off-putting stringiness. For these causes, good pulque hardly ever makes it out of central Mexico, so ingesting pulque in pulquerias in these elements not solely offers you a style of the drink at its greatest but in addition an expertise of the place it comes from.
Pulquerias are usually barebones and lowbrow, the partitions pasted with photographs of scantily clad girls, the flooring interminably sticky, and so they hardly ever supply something to eat aside from bowls of suspect snacks. And but, many in Mexico Metropolis are adorned with murals, some depicting well-known figures in historical past, others that honor pulque, its previous, the way in which it’s made, or how good it’s to drink. In La Cátedral del Pulque, which has ladled out the drink since 1947 in Mexico Metropolis’s Obrero neighborhood, Torres factors out a mural that includes David Alfaro Siqueiros as protagonist, a muralist modern of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, and tried murderer of Leon Trotsky. One other wall exhibits an adaptation of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” during which God pours pulque from his jicara, a standard ingesting vessel made out of a gourd, into one held out by Adam.
A mural in La Cátedral del Pulque.
The historical past and tradition, in addition to the number of drinks on supply, make it price looking for a very good pulqueria out. The bar at La Cátedral del Pulque hosts a collection of open-topped glass jars, referred to as vitroleros, every with an indication hanging round its neck to establish the flavour of the curados inside. On the day of my go to, La Cátedral provided curados of celery, cranberry, oatmeal, pine nut; “angel’s kiss” (cherry, oatmeal, amaranth); and a tomato with oyster one which evoked Clamato and was served with a spicy salted rim.
A brief distance away, Las Duelistas provided, amongst others, a guava, blackberry, and pink wine pulque vaguely paying homage to sangria. Drinkers get them organized by the small glass or the large carafe, some stopping by the bar for a single cup and others lingering over plastic pitcher after plastic pitcher. Curados make for simple ingesting and are overwhelmingly extra well-liked than plain pulque due to the way in which they ameliorate widespread complaints concerning the drink’s off-flavors or slimy texture, even when these complaints are solely relevant to less-than-fresh pulque. As a result of it needs to be contemporary, the pulque at Las Duelistas is available in from Tlaxcala, about two hours east of Mexico Metropolis, each day at three a.m., at which level the bar mixes up a couple of of the 46 totally different flavors it gives on rotation. It appears arduous to consider that this spot, lately so near going out of enterprise, now sells as a lot as 900 liters of pulque in a single day.
Ingesting pulque is a technique to reclaim part of Mexican identification that all the time appears to be on the verge of being misplaced or forgotten. In describing his love for the drink and what it means to Mexicans and central Mexicans, Garrido appears to swell with delight on the amount they promote, as if he, personally, in pouring out glasses of this drink, is handing the following technology a bit of their identification, one which’s uniquely tied to a plant that grows solely right here, one that may’t journey far with out struggling grievously in high quality.
For the curious vacationers, the hipster locals, the older males alone on the bar with an outsized, chipped stein, every glass of pulque is a bit of little bit of Mexico. It helps guests really feel near the placement, helps the long-timers bear in mind earlier days, and helps the youth really feel linked to the previous. The pulquerias all throughout Mexico Metropolis, each new and outdated, carry what was as soon as the drink of gods and emperors, then of the agricultural poor, to the city plenty, one sip at a time.

This put up could comprise hyperlinks to Amazon or different companions; your purchases through these hyperlinks can profit Severe Eats. Learn extra about our affiliate linking coverage.