As much as I trumpet Mexican food, I don’t often write about Mexico’s drinks. Specifically, given the biodiversity and varied topography throughout the country, I’m also curious about what everyone was drinking before the conquistadors.
On the topic of indigenous and Prehispanic beverages, let’s look at a couple – tejate, and pozontle – which both originate in the present-day state of Oaxaca.
Yes, tejate, the first of today’s two Pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) drinks, is often seen in vats at markets and bazaars in Oaxaca. Centuries before the Aztecs, the Zapotec peoples – mostly the upper class – of what is now the state of were enjoying tejate. Its ingredients include water, toasted corn, pixtle (ground roasted mamey pits; incidentally, pitztli means bone or seed in the Aztec language Nahuatl), fermented cacao beans, and cacao flowers. The cacao was most likely introduced to Oaxaca from Chiapas state in Mexico through early bartering.
Generally, tejate is served in a bowl made of jícara, an inedible fruit from the calabash tree:
I consider tejate a light and very frothy drink, a bit bitter and not too sweet. Though there are indeed, differences in flavors, I had a similar opinion regarding the less well-known pre-Hispanic Oaxacan beverage, pozontle.
On a visit to a random market in Oaxaca, I stumbled upon La Pozontoleria, a small kiosk serving up this foamy and slightly sweet “shake” more easily found at rural wedding ceremonies, baptisms, and during the Day of the Dead in traditional hillside Oaxacan pueblos (towns).
Pozontle’s four more recognizable ingredients are water, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and ground specks of cacao and corn. The cacao and corn are rolled into little spheres, which are then dissolved in panela water. The fifth ingredient, called cocolmécatl, is a vine in the Smilax genus that when ground, causes the rest of the pozontle mixture to foam.
Many of us might be quite familiar with Mexican dishes. But when it comes to Prehispanic drinks, that’s an entirely different world equally worth discovering.