Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Agua frescas

In many Mexican restaurants, it's common to see large barrel-shaped jars full of vibrantly colored beverages. Sometimes the jars are made of clear plastic and can hold up to five gallons. Sometimes you see the smaller traditional ones made of glass. These jars, - or vitroleros - contain aguas frescas - cool (or "fresh") waters.

Aguas frescas are made of pureed or blended fruits, sugar, and water, chilled with ice. They are a nice accompaniment to a spicy-flavored meal, and equally good to refresh you on a hot day.

Here in Los Angeles' Grand Central Market, La Adelita Panaderia has a selection of aguas frescas to choose from.

While I tried to decide what to order, a father bought his daughter a limonade. The woman behind the counter took the lid of the vitrolero and used a big aluminum ladle to spoon it into a clear plastic cup.

The assortment includes agua de sandia (watermelon), limonade, agua de pina (pineapple), agua de melon (canteloupe) and a mixture of fruits, Ensalada de fruta. Aguas frescas are made with tropical fruits like guava, mango, and papaya. They are even sometimes made with cucumber - a particularly refreshing version.

Agua fresca de tamarindo
is made with the boiled and strained pulp of tamarind pods. Agua de jamaica is made from a solution of steeped hibiscus flowers. In addition to these simple mixtures of fruit, water, and sugar, aguas frescas also include more complex drinks that are sweet and creamy.

I finally chose an Agua fresa - at Adelita's she blends strawberries with milk, for a sweet creamy drink that's a perfect Barbie pink.

It goes great with the pink sugar cookies sold in the bakery portion of the shop.

Another favorite agua fresca is horchata. Horchata is a milky drink based on ground grain or nuts. In Spain it once was made with tigernuts, or chufas, which are actually the little nut-like root of a sedge, Cyperus esculentus.

The name horchata comes from the Valencian word orxata, which originally referred to barley. The Italian syrups called "orzata" share the same etymological root, also the French and English cocktail flavoring "orgeat."

In Mexico, horchata is usually based on rice. It's flavored with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. It's popular enough around here you can even find horchata in your supermarket, in cartons in the refridgerated juice section.

Oaxacan restaurants make very special horchatas, with many variations. They can include ground almonds, melon seeds, or other ingredients. At Monte Alban, a West LA restaurant known for its menu of moles, they serve horchata with a spoonful of sorbet made from prickly pear fruits, or tunas.

The fruit is bright magenta - the frosty chunks of sorbet float on top of the pale horchata before dissolving and tinting the whole drink a delicate pink.

Even more spectacular is the horchata served at Guelaguetza restaurant. There are several restaurants in this chain, one on W. 8th Street, one in Koreatown, and one in West LA.

Guelaguetza's horchata de tuna y nuez y melón comes with chunks of cantaloupe, sprinkled chopped pecans, and a squirt of syrup made from the prickly pear fruit.

It tastes as good as it looks.


Queenly Things said...

orite water is agua de canela - Cinnamon water and then I love barley water. There is nothing better than a long cool sip of agua fresca to restore your spirit. You've spurred me onto making some this very afternoon.

CONNIE said...

They look so refreshing.Y ou're so lucky to live in California where the food choices are so diverse. Reminds me of home (the Philippines). Enjoy!

Have a lovely evening, G!

we_be_toys said...

Okay, so if I'm ever in LA I know who to ask where to go for really good local cuisine.

Excellent lesson - I had no idea there were so many different types of Agua Fresca - here I thought it was just water - derrrr!

Gabriela said...


I am a huge fan of horchata, very popular in Central America...and Mexican food is so good!

~ Gabriela ~