When I was living in Canada in March 2018, I had a conversation about the different aguas de fruta, or fruit waters, that we have in Mexico that triggered the idea of travelling throughout the country to document its traditional drinks. Beyond a personal journey, this book would foster future research into the drinks, the stories of those who prepare them, and the villages where they are made.
Before starting that trip, I made a list of drinks for each state. In the case of Oaxaca, I found 13 traditional beverages: mezcal, tejate, bu’pu, agua de chilacayota, hot chocolate made with water, cocol, pinole, horchata with prickly pear, atole with white cacao, aguardiente, chocolateatole, tepache and popo.
The first drink that I documented is one of the best known in Oaxaca: tejate, which is made with cacao, corn, mamey bone and rosita de cacao. This white, edible flower has a sweet flavour and grows on the rosital, a common tree in San Andrés Huayapam, a town in the Central Valleys, located 20 minutes from Oaxaca’s centre.
To make tejate, you need to cook the corn one day in advance. Then, toast the ingredients on a comal over a low heat, gently moving them with a brush to achieve an even toast. Next, you grind the ingredients in the metate until you have a paste that is then beaten in a large clay pot called an apaxtle for one hour. In this way, the peculiar foam of the drink is achieved.
The history of tejate was published on my blog and attracted the attention of Celia Florián, president of Traditional Cooks of Oaxaca. She shared it with her group of cooks who began to contact me to document more drinks. As I travelled, each person recommended another recipe, and they asked me to photograph the beverages of their villages.
Along with the beautiful landscapes of Oaxaca, I found many ingredients typical of the region during the trip: kidney tomatoes, chilhuacle chilli, tusta chilli, chepiles, quelites, coloured corn varieties, chilacayotas, black zapote, and jiotillas, among others, as well as a variety of kitchen tools such as wood stoves, grills and griddles, grinding stones and mill grinders, mortar and pestles, clay pots, brushes, trays, and molinillos.
‘Beverages of Oaxaca’ documents the preparation and making of 77 traditional beverages in the eight regions of the state through photographs and texts that show the ingredients, tools, communities, and customs around the drinks and, most importantly, the protagonists of this work who maintain the knowledge of the traditional drinks of their towns.
The book is divided according to the eight regions of Oaxaca: the Sierra Sur, Central Valleys, Sierra Norte, the Coast, Cañada, the Mixteca, the Istmo and Papaloapan. In these places, I documented atoles, tepaches, corn and cacao-based drinks, distillates, natural fruit waters, ferments, and coffee, among many others. Some are made exclusively for festivities, rituals, weddings, and mayordomías. For example, in Arroyo de Banco, which is located in the Papaloapan region, they prepare the atole de pataxte only during the celebration of the Day of the Dead, between the end of October and the beginning of November. In Oaxaca, they call white cacao pataxte, and they roast it on the comal until its shell blackens, before grinding it and serving it with atole.
There are also ceremonial drinks such as tepache con rojo. This drink is sacred to the mixes and, because of this, to consume it, it is essential to climb the sacred hill of Zempoaltépetl. In Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, the drink is made and offered on the hill when families have a fiesta patronal, or if you need to climb the mountain to ask Konk ëy (the divinity of the mixes, also called ‘Rey Bueno’ or The Good King) for something. To prepare it, they add pulque and water in the same proportions in a clay pot, then add unrefined brown sugar or raw cane sugar and leave it to ferment. Tepache con rojo should only be made if the request includes a mass or when you reach the top of the Zempoaltépetl hill. To get the reddish foam, they make a powder of ground popping corn, cacao and ground achiote.
Experiencing the hospitality of the Oaxacan people, their customs, and ways of living and thinking made me conscious of what is really important to live a happy life: to breathe clean air, eat food from the fields, spend time with the community, and of course, drink the traditional drinks that give us the strength and energy to keep travelling.
‘Beverages of Oaxaca’ is available online at www.bebidasdeoaxaca.com.