Mex­ico’s an­cient bev­er­age of pulque makes a comeback

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TASTE - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in San­ti­ago Cuaut­lal­pan

Mex­i­cans have been brew­ing pulque from the juice of cac­tus-like maguey plants for cen­turies, but the vis­cous, beer-like bev­er­age fell out of fa­vor start­ing in the 1970s as pulque got a bad rep­u­ta­tion as a peas­ant’s drink. The num­ber of pro­duc­ers, con­sumers and bars known as “pul­que­rias” dwin­dled.

But now, the nu­tri­ent-rich drink is mak­ing a comeback among a new gen­er­a­tion of Mex­i­cans.

The Aztecs of Mex­ico’s cen­tral high­lands revered pulque, pro­nounced POOL-kay, re­serv­ing it for the high­est so­cial classes and the most au­gust oc­ca­sions.

To­day, pulque is avail­able in nu­mer­ous fla­vors and strengths and you are as likely to see a tat­tooed mil­len­nial cou­ple sip­ping a liter con­tainer of straw­berry-fla­vored pulque out­side a hip­ster bar as the farm­ers in cow­boy hats who make and drink it in the coun­try­side.

But don’t ex­pect it to ap­pear on the shelves of the lo­cal liquor store.

Be­fore, drink­ing pulque was looked down on, peo­ple would say, ‘Oh, no, drink­ing pulque is re­ally low class.’ Now, for­tu­nately, the young peo­ple are tak­ing this up.” Car­los Ela­dio Con­tr­eras, pulque fes­ti­val or­ga­nizer

His­tory of pulque

For decades, at­tempts have failed to can or bot­tle the milky white liq­uid that con­tin­ues to fer­ment quickly af­ter be­ing pro­duced.

Pulque long had a rep­u­ta­tion as the drink of poor farm­ers, and many as­sumed it was pro­duced un­der un­san­i­tary con­di­tions — some­thing its fans say is not true.

An­to­nio Gomez, a pulque pro­ducer in the com­mu­nity of San­ti­ago Cuaut­lal­pan in Te­pot­zot­lan mu­nic­i­pal­ity just north of Mex­ico City, is among those who make the drink the old fash­ioned way, by hol­low­ing out the pulpy heart of the re­gion’s maguey plant and us­ing a sort of suc­tion pipe to pull out the sug­ary liq­uid that col­lects in the hol­low sec­tion. The liq­uid at that stage, known as aguamiel is barely al­co­holic, if at all.

The liq­uid goes into plas­tic tanks to fer­ment, of­ten for as lit­tle as 12 hours. With the ad­di­tion of fruit juices, it comes in fla­vors such as guava, mango, co­conut, straw­berry and pineapple. At 6 per­cent al­co­hol con- tent af­ter fer­men­ta­tion, it’s about as strong as the av­er­age beer.

Gomez said pulque was once served in some parts of Mex­ico in the morn­ing, as well as for health rea­sons.

“The old peo­ple, they say that be­fore, they didn’t drink cof­fee; they had some pulque, tor­tillas and beans and that was their break­fast,” he said.

“A lot of doc­tors are pre­scrib­ing it as medicine,” Gomez said. “A di­a­betic per­son, for ex­am­ple, should drink strong pulque.”

Gomez said he wor­ries about the old maguey fields that once sus­tained en­tire ha­cien­das as they are torn up to make way for sub­di­vi­sions and shop­ping malls.

“More than any­thing else, we have to con­tinue plant­ing magueys ... and take care of the fields, be­cause other peo­ple, un­for­tu­nately, are com­ing out here to de­velop and build houses,” he said.

Res­cu­ing tra­di­tion

In ar­eas around Te­pot­zot­lan, pulque fa­nat­ics in­clud­ing farm­ers, grow­ers and ur­ban res­i­dents for the last three years have or­ga­nized a sort of pulque car­a­van com­plete with food, horse­back rid­ing, mu­sic, pulque-drink­ing com­pe­ti­tions and bur­ros laden with wooden bar­rels of the bev­er­age.

Car­los Ela­dio Con­tr­eras, a fes­ti­val or­ga­nizer, said “it’s about res­cu­ing tra­di­tions, right?”

“Be­fore, drink­ing pulque was looked down on, peo­ple would say, “Oh, no, drink­ing pulque is re­ally low class,” he said. “Now, for­tu­nately, the young peo­ple are tak­ing this up, res­cu­ing some­thing, its essence, and res­cue the iden­tity of their peo­ple and the land where pulque is born, which is the maguey fields.”

Ri­cardo Gal­lardo Leon is a bearded twenty-some­thing Mex­ico City res­i­dent who drinks at the “Las Duelis­tas” pul­que­ria down­town.

“I like this be­cause it is some­thing we in­her­ited from our an­ces­tors and be­cause my fam­ily also drinks it,” said Gal­lardo Leon. “It’s some­thing we shouldn’t lose.”

The mainly small, ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­ers com­plain that tax codes, health codes and com­mer­cial re­quire­ments have con­spired to keep their pulque busi­nesses small.

Je­sus Her­nan­dez, an­other or­ga­nizer of the pulque car­a­van, said the government re­quire­ments are al­most im­pos­si­ble to com­ply with, so he sells the bev­er­age out of tanks in the back of his truck.

When see­ing the cost re­quired to be­come a reg­is­tered pro­ducer, Her­nan­dez whis­tles and says, “Man, if I had that much money, I’d be do­ing some­thing else for a liv­ing, right?”

PHO­TOS BY MARCO UGARTE / AP

A cou­ple sit out­side La Nu­clear pul­que­ria in Mex­ico City; glasses filled with pulque are de­liv­ered to a cus­tomer.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Clock­wise from top: Pho Bo; Viet­namese spring roll; Saigon Combo.

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