I’ve been woefully deficient in my drink reporting during this trip. So here we go on some of the more intriguing and tasty and odd drinks we came across on our travels.
First up is Paraguay with mosto – sugar cane juice. It doesn’t look that great, but man does it taste good. I guess it’s kind of like brown sugar in water (that’s more or less what it is), but it’s so good, with an indescribable quality to it. We could find it easily in Cuidad del Este, but it was harder to find elsewhere.
Bolivia was next, giving us the apple and quinoa drink seen here. It’s really thick and really tasty. Usually served in the morning piping hot, it’s breakfast for some here. I’ll post a recipe for this after this drink post (it’s going to be long enough).
With Bolivia came coca (chewed everywhere here conspicuously and a bit more on the sly in the mountains of Peru) and from that, coca tea. You can just add hot water to coca leaves if you want (I also put a little sugar in) or use packets that are sold everywhere. In fact, in Peru, after every meal three kinds of tea are offered (in a home and on my hike) – anise, coca, or XXXX. With no sugar, it’s a wee bit bitter, but it definitely gives one a bit of a rise. One of the women I hiked with loved putting some in her thermos in the morning and having well-brewed coca tea for her elevenses.
Bolivia also gave us a thick, red drink (also hot – everything in Bolivia is hot, due to the fact that it always seems cold here…) called apí, made from corn and cloves and cinnamon. Seems like a perfect winter (or mountain!) drink.
Into Peru, we had pisco sours here and there – the official national drink. Pisco is made from grapes and is fairly strong. It’s like brandy, in its own way. The drinks are made with lemon juice, bitters, syrup, and egg whites frothed up on top.
Peru also brought us into contact with the radioactive-looking Inca Kola, which outsells Coca Cola in the country. It tastes like bubble gum and is fairly sweet, but for many Peruvians who have left their motherland, it is a symbol of what home has in store for them. You could buy it heavily marked-up in Buenos Aires in the Peruvian restaurant alongside the cheaper, locally-made (?) bright yellow sodas.
I also tasted the drink that has garnered the most comments in our photo album – essence of frog. Yup, I ate frog. Or rather, drank it. It all starts with a live frog taken out of an aquarium right on the cart. It’s killed, skinned, and blended in some water, then poured through a sieve. Other ingredients are added – beet and carrot juice, half a banana, quail egg, water, honey, carob extract, maca (a powdered root), and love – presumably to take away the frog taste.
How did it taste? Christine took one sip and pronounced it to be like juice made with swamp water. I say it tasted like sinister fruit juice – familiar flavours with something lurking in the background that you just can’t place. I thought it was worth the experience, even though it may have been the catalyst that made me violently ill that night. On a bus. Bad place for that, by the way.
Rounding out the trip were warm drinks again, this time from Colombia. In Bogotá, the hot chocolate is well-known, as it is served with cheese that is supposed to be put in the chocolate. I had been anticipating this chocolate since I had first heard of it in Ecuador, though I was a little disappointed when I actually tried it. I had imagined a delicate blend of flavours, but when I tried it (and it was a nice place, though who knows…) the cheese didn’t mix that well and just sank to the bottom. Looked pretty, but disappointing on the delivery. Too bad.
The coffee, however, was definitely up to snuff. First of all, you could get flavoured instant coffees in the stores – Irish cream, coconut, and a few others. They weren’t bad.
The real treat was the tinto as it was called – coffee drunk on the streets. People walked around with big thermoses and tiny cups selling hot, sweet coffee to anyone who would buy all over the country, even on the beach up north. It didn’t taste different as Sumatran or Vietnamese coffee did when I first tried them as Colombian coffee is what is drunk back home, or was when I was growing up, but it was still really good.
Last and certainly not least, we tried every type of beer that we could find on our journey – I’d say we tried around 50 or so. We found a few gems, but I have to say the quality overall dropped once we left Argentina. Even their base beer, Quilmes, was a step above most other beers on the continent, and some of their regional lagers were terrific. If you’re interested in taking a peek, you can see them in South American Drinks along with all of the other things we used to quench our thirst on this continent.