Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drinking Chicha (And Paying The Price)

Chicha. I first heard of it when I visited Peru last February and had Chicha Morada. It was a really sweet, strange/new/exciting, fruit-juice-style drink and was very good. Cue one year later and I'm in the ranching areas north of Bogotá, Colombia when I'm offered some chicha. Woohoo! Sure, I'll have some!!! What I ended up drinking this time was very different...

Traditional chicha is an Inca/Andean drink that was made by women who would chew on corn and then spit the resulting liquid into a container. The mix would sit for a few days to ferment and a slightly-alcoholic drink would be the result. The process is similar to how sake was originally made and how beer is processed today (sans spitting I believe). This time, I had a local chicha that was made by neighbors on a nearby farm and, from what I can tell, no spitting was involved. Rather, corn with some honey and water added was slow cooked for about a day. It was then transferred to these Ollas de Barro and allowed to sit for about a week or so:

The chicha was a yellowish-tan color and was actively fermenting as I could see bubbles still emerging from the liquid in the ollas. Okay, I figured, I'll still have some. I was handed half of a hollowed-out gourd, which is called a pilche, and some chicha was added. This was the first "cup" I had:

Not too bad. It was both sweet and acidic at the same time. I ended up drinking about an entire half-gourd's worth that day. I wanted to drink more but I my tongue ended up getting sore from the acid in the drink so I stopped. (In retrospect, this probably should have been a warning.) Here I am with some locals enjoying a round:

Not too bad. The chicha was really tasty and very cool. I'll always remember the chicha...and what happened next...

During lunch the next day, I was offered some more chicha and I said yes. This time the drink was less acidic so I put away almost twice as much, like two half-gourd's worth. The alcohol content was probably pretty low as I never felt the affects...of the alcohol. What I did end up feeling the affects of about an hour-or-two later was the active fermentation process. The closest I can compare it to is when you're filling up a balloon and it slips out of your hand and shoots around the room. (Note: I actually wrote a little more detail here but I ended up deciding that you probably get the point and deleted it.) Drinking the chicha was a very fun cultural experience...that I will definitely do in moderation next time.

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