Friday, March 1, 2013

What's For Breakfast? Colombian Drinking Chocolate

I've always been a fan of chocolate. Like, in a big way. Growing up, I can remember my mom making me (cold) chocolate milk or hot chocolate depending on the time of the year or what I was in the mood for. When I'm in Philadelphia, I often go over to my sister's house where she serves up a mean pre-bed chocolate milk for the kids.

Later, when I lived and traveled in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca, I always loved getting some hot chocolate along with my breakfast. What I especially enjoy is that they usually have cinnamon and spicy chili peppers mixed in. There's nothing like that old-fashioned-Mexican combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, chili peppers, and raw sugar!

Even later, I found and fell in love with Churros and Chocolate in Spain and hot chocolate in France. In these cases, the drink has been refined and improved but there's still something to the simplicity of the Latin-American version.

Drawing of a traditional Mexican drinking-chocolate ceremony:

Colombia also has a tradition of drinking chocolate. As in Mexico, the chocolate is sold as a solid, as opposed to the syrup or powder that's commonly used in the United States. Four servings of Colombian drinking chocolate in bar form:

In lots of cases, like in Mexico, flavors such as cinnamon (or even vanilla) are added - but I haven't found a chili-pepper version yet even though the stores are loaded with different types. While Americans like Hershey's, Quik, or Swiss Miss, for Mexicans it's Ibarra (my favorite) or Abuelita and for Colombians it seems to be Corona. The drinking chocolate aisle at the local supermarket:

In the United States, we tend to like our drinking chocolate made with milk but in Colombia and Mexico it's almost always just hot water and chocolate. One section of chocolate is added for each cup of water and heated until the water just about boils. (For some reason, aluminum cookware, like the pot shown below, is all the rage in Colombia.)

At that point, the chocolate is almost completely melted and a Molinillo (mole-len-knee-oh) is placed between the palms and rapidly spun back and forth to stir and froth the mix. From what I understand, tradition has it that the chocolate is best served a bit foamy and the molinillo's design and the pre-boiling timing is key to achieving the right amount of foam. The molinillo in this photo is fairly simple but I've seen very complicated/ornate ones both here and in Mexico. I've also been led to believe (and may have witnessed) that molinillos make a great weapon...

I've always thought of both hot and cold chocolate as an anytime beverage. When I was in university, I'd buy two pretzels and a pint of chocolate milk for a mid-morning snack (oh, the days of eating unlimited carbs!). In Spain, hot chocolate, often served with churros, is an evening or even late-night, post-night-out-drinking snack. Here in Colombia, once again like in Mexico, it's definitely all about breakfast. Most days I opt for a bucket of coffee and some eggs but, every once in a while, especially when we're in Bogota and there are almojabonas (a slightly-cheesy-flavored corn-flower-based bun usually served for breakfast) or, if we're at the farm, arepas (cheese-filled corn-flower-based baked item - sense a theme here?).

Probably the most unusual thing is that Colombians will place a piece of cheese into their hot chocolate, drink the chocolate, and then eat the warm-and-softened cheese at the end like the gum in the bottom of a Screwball. Even though I'm not a fan, I'd never criticize it since I'm the same guy who'll eat avocado dusted with sugar (Hawaii, anyone?), put salt and chili pepper on a fruit salad (viva Mexico!), or eat wasabi on almost anything...

A simple, but very lovely Colombian breakfast spread:

Writing this story makes me want to have some hot chocolate for tomorrow morning's breakfast. I think I'll go "mention" in front of Diana's dad how much I looooooooove the almojabanas from that local bakery he goes to so that might get some in the morning. Hahahahahahahahahahha! So evil!

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