Monday, November 21, 2011

Indie Travel - Drink

Just as the cuisine of a place reveals clues about its culture and history, so does its signature local drink. What’s the best drink you had on the road, and did the drink have any connection to the place where you drank it or the people you drank with?

Tequila. Mexico.  

Tequila is made from the agave plant, which is an overgrown succulent, much like an aloe vera.  In the very old days, the desert dwellers would cut off one giant arm of a plant and squeeze the juice from it. Agua Miel it was called, honey water. I have no idea if the natives learned to ferment it, or just used it as a water supply when other supplies ran low. It is purported to be full of vitamins and very nutritious. 

In the markets you can occasionally find a dark molasses-like substance that is concentrated agua miel. It's sweet with some bitter undertones and is used in cooking just like molasses. They also make candy from it. 

But tequila is probably the nation's main export. In fact it can be a bit difficult to find the finest tequilas in stores, the best gets sold abroad. 

Agave plant in San Miguel
de Allende, Guanajuato
John, my travel partner, is quite a sophisticated drinker. He knows and loves the various varieties, often buying a fairly large amount of certain brands when he can find them. I like Margaritas on occasion, but when we travel together, one of us needs to be level headed, sane, and sober. 

Guadalajara is the big tequila region. The airport is decorated with murals of fields of blue agave, and I'm sure several of the big companies sponsored the building of the airport as their logos are all over the place. Traveling out from Guad in any direction, fields are everywhere. And the plants grow just about anywhere too, on slanting hillsides, edges of mountains, and rocky volcanos. The blue agave is a smaller plant, about two feet high, and probably has the highest sugar concentration. It's also used to make agave syrup, good for those who want  fewer calories but don't want to use artificial sweeteners. It's tough to find the syrup in Mexico as most of it gets exported too.

Tequila is synonymous with Mexico. I can't think of one, without thinking of the other. 

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