Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I’ve heard about drinks in Mexico called aguas frescas, but what exactly are they?
Visitors to Mexico are sure to encounter aguas frescas, a popular category of drinks that are ubiquitous at food stands and eateries around the country. These colorful beverages, whose name literally means “fresh waters,” come in a variety of different flavors depending on the main ingredient, but generally all are made by mixing a fruit juice with water and sugar.
In Mexico City, typical aguas frescas flavors include agua de limón con chía, a kind of lemonade made with lime juice and chia seeds; agua de jamaica, a type of iced tea made with hibiscus flower; agua de horchata, which is made with rice; and agua de tamarindo, made with the pulp of boiled tamarind pods. Flavors vary depending on the seasonal availability of the main ingredients. During the winter months, for example, orange, guava and tangerine aguas frescas are quite common.
Around Mexico, aguas frescas often incorporate local fruits and ingredients. Some of these regional concoctions have made their way to the capital, such as chilate, a drink from the state of Guerrero that combines cocoa, cinnamon and the molasses-like piloncillo, and pozol, a corn-based drink from the state of Chiapas. Other aguas frescas are based on more unusual ingredients, such as tepache, made with pineapple peels that have been fermented – not enough to make the drink alcoholic, but to the point that you can certainly feel the tingly sensation of the fermentation in your mouth (which we feel is what makes the drink so delicious).
Aguas frescas are sold by street vendors, at markets and at restaurants, and they’re a fundamental part of a lunchtime meal at both homes and fondas. During the springtime (the hottest months of the year), vitroleros – a type of classic glass container where aguas frescas are prepared and displayed – can be seen everywhere in the capital city. Aguas frescas are so popular, in fact, that large multinational drink companies have released their own bottled versions in Mexico (and even in the United States). However, freshly made aguas frescas are, thankfully, still the most popular choice for most Mexicans.
Here are some of my favorite places in Mexico City to get aguas frescas:
Aguas Frescas el Abuelo
“El abuelo” (“the grandfather”) has been making aguas frescas in Xochimilco market for several decades. A visit to this amazing market is simply not complete without stopping at El Abuelo for a guanabana, pineapple or guava agua fresca. There are at least 10 different flavors offered each day.
Located inside Mercado Anáhuac, Las Delicias was a great find we came across while in search of good places for aguas frescas. We tried the guava agua fresca, which was fresh, refreshing and had just the right amount of sugar. Other great flavors were the watermelon and horchata.
Most ice cream parlors also sell aguas frescas, including La Michoacana shops, which can be found everywhere in the city. They can be recognized by their pink façades and bright pictures of ice cream on the walls. Although their ice cream is only okay at best, the selection of aguas frescas is usually extensive and we have never been disappointed. (Multiple locations including the southeast corner of López and Vizcaínas, Centro Histórico.)
This story was originally published on August 16, 2013.
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