Culture

What Is Pulque And Why Do People Either Love It Or Hate It?

Along with tequila and mezcal, pulque is the one of the most iconic Mexican alcoholic beverages. Its origins ago deep in history and speak of the indigenous past and present of the country.  This is what you need to know about this mythical drink that is making a comeback as a mainstream road to indulgence. 

So what exactly is pulque anyway?

 Pulque is beautiful in its simplicity. The drink is the fermented sap of the maguey or agave plant. It has a thick, gooey consistency that takes some time getting used to. It has a milky color in its pure state, but many pulquerias add fruit juices and honey to make it a curado or flavored pulque. This is how journalist Emily Sargent described pulque in The Times: “sweet, thick, syrupy agave juice served inexplicably in pint-jug portions”.

It was known as octli by the Aztecs and is surrounded by fascinating myths.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Pulque has been drunk for at least 1,000 years. The Aztecs believed that the liquid collected at the center of the succulent known as maguey was actually the blood of Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey. It was also believed that if you got drunk on octli a rabbit would possess you. There were 400 rabbits known as Centzon Totochtin, and they were the children of Mayahuel.  Up to this day, some pulque drinkers spill some of their drink to the floor as an offering to Mother Earth. The word pulque is Mexican Spanish, dating in print to 1877. 

Pulque is a key element of Mexican popular culture.

Credit: Instagram. @celsotours

In particular, pulque is a constant in visual memories of the Mexican Revolution. Salud

There are even B-movies that honor pulque culture!

Credit: La Pulqueria / Videocine

In the 1970s and 1980s, low-quality films known as sexy-comedias-mexicanas showcased pulque culture in various films. The most famous is La Pulqueria, directed by Victor Manuel Castro and featuring la creme de la creme of Mexican comedians and the most famous boxer in Mexico’s history, Ruben Olivares. 

Pulque is now being consumed by Mexicans of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

For decades, pulque was associated with the lower classes, which speaks of the sad but inherent racism that permeates Mexican mestizo culture. For example, it was common to see homeless men drunk on pulque featured in Mexican cinema. The drink has made a huge comeback in the past 15 years, and pulquerias, traditional dens where people meet to drink pulque, are popular amongst city dwellers of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Pulque production is mostly artisanal and “organic.”

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Rather than being distilled as with tequila and mezcal, the elixir that emanates from the maguey is left to be fermented. First, the sap is extracted from the center of the maguey and then placed in 50-liter barrels called tinas. After than, mature pulque, known as seed pulque, is added to jump start the fermentation, which takes from one to two weeks. The pulque maker needs to consider factors such as the weather and the quality of the sap to determine the exact fermentation period that stops the pulque from turning sour and undrinkable. It is more art than science. 

Pulque is the product of a long, natural process.

Credit: Instagram. @cocinafacil

Pulque is a labor of love. Each maguey plants needs to mature for at least 12 years before the sap can be extracted. After that, it produces sap for only one year at the most. That is a long wait, but the benefits are worth it. 

And hey, it brings some health benefits too!

Credit: Instagram. @bandita_chilanga

Of course you need to drink it in moderation, but pulque does bring important nutritional benefits. An academic paper states that for some Mexicans “pulque was the third most important source of iron (non-heme form), ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and other B-vitamins”.  Carnales, it’s science! 

Pulquerias usually have creative names.

Credit: Instagram. @semahernandez

Great names include “My Office”, “Memories of the Future”, “Drink and Go”, “I’m Waiting for You Here at the Corner”, and  “The Recreation Center of Those Across the Street”. A true testament of Mexican everyday creativity and knack for humor.

The state of Hidalgo is pulque heaven.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_desdeadentro

Even though pulque is produced across the country, particularly the areas surrounding Mexico City, the state of Hidalgo takes the crown as the most prolific. There are about 250 pulque haciendas in the state. 

In Tlaxcala, the state government has organized a tour called “la ruta del pulque.”

Credit: Instagram. @enriquenoriega

You can visit different production sites… and perhaps be possessed by a rabbit if you drink a bit too much!

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to pulque-drinking receptacles!

Credit: Instagram. @nilsbernstein

You know how people get snobbish when you drink white wine with a red wine glass? Well, that is not the case with pulque, which you can enjoy in basically anything that holds the nectar from the gods. Each pulqueria has its own style when it comes to serving methods. 

You can even drink it directly from the plant when it has been naturally fermented.

Credit: Instagram. @neomexicanismos

Yes, even a used Coke bottle will do! Just look at this pulque master!

Or you can also drink it straight from a maguey leaf.

Credit: Instagram. @oscarlemuss

Can you think of a more Instagrammable way of doing this? We can’t!

The Coronavirus Is Getting Its Own Beer And Concha At This Mexico City Panadería And We Can’t Help But Laugh A Little

Culture

The Coronavirus Is Getting Its Own Beer And Concha At This Mexico City Panadería And We Can’t Help But Laugh A Little

@lacornetanegra / Twitter

No one can accuse Mexicans of having no sense of humor. Whether it be reactions to cartel violence, an ineffective government plagued by corruption, or a global pandemic – many Mexicans turn to memes and humor to confront real issues. Enter the CoronaBeer and ConchaVirus.

Yes, the Coronavirus has ravaged communities around the world. And Mexico itself hasn’t escaped the crisis – more than 2,000 cases have been reported so far and it’s expected to get much worse.

Entrepreneurs are trying to find some common ground and an opportunity with a very scary reality.

Martha Rivas is part of the team who created the now viral “Conchavirus.” She says, in an interview with UnoTV, that the creation came from “a genuine concern about how to face this crisis due to the coronavirus.”

The creators of this peculiar product found in the “Conchavirus” how to cope with the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. They’re bringing in the pesos like never before.

Yes, the ConchaVirus is real.

Credit: @lacornetanegra / Twitter

The “Conchavirus” was created in Mexico City’s bustling Iztapalapa district by a team of creative panaderos/as. The interesting looking confection is made with red icing, concha dough, and a lot of creativity. The team behind the now viral pan dulce, hand decorate each and every concha to make sure that it is best representative of the illustrations of the virus, provided by doctors and scientists.

For anybody wondering – a large Conchavirus is going for $6.50 pesos (or about 25¢ USD). There’s also apparently the “Manta-ConchaVirus,” but that’s…a whole other story.

It’s so real, it even got its own segment on a local news channel.

After the publication of a photo that went viral on social media, chilangos – or residents of Mexico City – began a crazed search search for the conchas. This viral moment has already been reflected in the huge growth of sales.

Meanwhile, Corona has suffered a major decline in sales because of the namesake virus.

Credit: @GabrielFrancoJr / Twitter

I mean, remember when rumors started flying around that some people actually thought the virus and iconic Mexican beer brand were somehow linked? Yea, it was a thing.

And yea, Corona beer already existed long before the pandemic but this CoronaBeer is totally different.

Obviously there isn’t much too celebrate right now given the on-going health crisis, but one beer makers hopes what when all is said and done – people will toast to good health with his new brew.

A brewery in Mexico’s state of Hidalgo has appropriated the name of the deadly virus and used it for a product he hopes will bring people together – Coronavirus Beer.

Isaac Palafox, the entrepreneur, owns a chain of cafés and was already serving the beer but it didn’t yet have a name. He describes the beer as an English-style brew with hints of chocolate, molasses and coffee extract.

“This drink is already being produced and sold in my cafes, but it didn’t have a name, until now,” he said, adding that the coffee he uses to make the beer is toasted by artisanal roasters whose methods date back to the year 1900 and incorporate practices brought to Hidalgo by German immigrants to the region.

But Mexican businesspeople aren’t the only ones looking to capitalize on the coronavirus. The newspaper El País reported that six brands in Spain have made trademark requests for names related to Covid-19, including T-shirts that read, “I survived the coronavirus.”

I Live In Mexico City And This Is How The City Is Fighting Back Against The Coronavirus

Things That Matter

I Live In Mexico City And This Is How The City Is Fighting Back Against The Coronavirus

Fernando Arce / Getty

All around the world countries have struggled to address the immense threat of Covid-19. From unprecedented lockdowns across China and Italy to overcrowded hospitals in the United States and Spain, the crisis has continued to spiral out of control.

However, a day in the streets of Mexico City may have you wondering what all the fuss is about. As someone who has lived for three years in this city, it’s business as usual across most of the city.

Although much of the international media’s attention has focused on President López Obrador’s (AMLO) response – or lack thereof according to many – the 21 million chilangos who call the city home are reacting in their own way.

Mexico has come under fire for it’s handling of the crisis, but what is it like on the ground?

Credit: Secretariat Relaciones Exteriors / Gobierno de Mexico

Unlike other countries around the world and even across Latin America, AMLO has stopped short of issuing a broad lockdown due to concerns that it would batter an already vulnerable economy.

In fact, the president has said there will not be a big economic stimulus package related to the coronavirus pandemic, even though the country is facing a crisis unlike anything before.

To date, Mexico has recorded just over 2,100 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with most of those being in Mexico City. To many, that’s proof that Mexico is effectively controlling the spread. To others, it’s proof that the country is severely lacking in its testing capacity and the disease is likely spreading unnoticed.

And just an hour walking the city streets (in a mask, of course), you’ll still hear the high-pitched steam whistle of the camote vendor and the glaringly loud call of the elote truck. This has many residents concerned that people aren’t taking the threat seriously.

Despite AMLO’s hesitation, Mexico City’s mayor – Claudia Sheinbaum – has issued sweeping closures that have left much of the city eerily quiet.

The streets in Mexico City are usually choked with traffic and pedestrians – it’s the largest city in the Western Hemisphere after all. But the city’s mayor has ordered the closure of movie theatres, clubs, restaurants, gyms, and large events.

For example, every Sunday miles of city streets are shut down to traffic and attract more than 100,000 cyclists, runners, and skaters. This past Sunday the event was cancelled for the first time in years. And, last week, Mayor Sheinbaum also asked residents to work from home. But in a city where more than 60% are employed in the informal economy (taco stands, restaurants, technology shops, etc), it’s not an easy order to follow for millions of residents.

Drones have captured the quiet emptiness of the city’s streets, plaza, and monuments.

Credit: Gerardo Sandoval

The normally packed Paseo de Reforma – home to the city’s iconic Angel de la Indepencia – has come to a standstill.

The bustling historical core – home to thousands of local vendors and a myriad of major tourist attractions and museums – is essentially a ghost town.

But in the local neighborhoods, outside of the historic core of the city – life continues as normal despite a growing risk.

A large number of Mexicans earn a living as street vendors in Mexico City. The coronavirus outbreak has made their job even more precarious. Do they risk their lives to save their livelihood?

Credit: thatgaygringo/ Instagram

About 55% of Mexicans work in the informal economy. In Mexico City alone, nearly two million people — about 10% of the metropolitan area’s population — work as street vendors. As they continue to work in the face of coronavirus, they’re caught in a bind: their constant exposure to the elements and to passersby threatens their health. The shutdown threatens their livelihood.

The high levels of economic inequality would mean a complete lockdown would be devastating for many workers. And so far, the government has issued few measures meant to support locals during the pandemic. So far, only older adults will receive some welfare payments in advance. However, AMLO’s government has recently announced up to one million loans up to 25,000 pesos in value (about $1,000 USD) to small business owners. But these won’t be available to informal workers.

The city is taking limited to steps to help support some of the most vulnerable populations.

Credit: Open Society Foundation

However, the city is taking some steps to support some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. One such program is helping the city’s large sex industry as hotels and others businesses have closed up shop as a result of the city’s lockdown order.

The government-funded aid given out consists of a card that allows the recipients to purchase food and medicine. Some sex workers said they are concerned about the economic impact as many sex workers rely on their jobs to make ends meet and support their families.

Prostitution is legal in most of Mexico, but states have their own laws. Mexico City has decriminalized sex work since June of 2019.

Even Mexico’s drug cartels have had to adapt to less cover from a bustling city and few clients.

Credit: thatgaygringo/ Instagram

The global coronavirus lockdown is making it hard for Mexican drug cartels to operate. With borders shut and limited air traffic, cartels are turning on each other.

Even the famous (and dangerous) Mercado Tepito is suffering. Tepito is hugely popular with shoppers due to its rock-bottom prices. But these days, there are just a few bargain hunters about.

Business has taken a hit, with sales down 50%. But the Union Tepito gang (which controls the market through extortion) is still demanding vendors pay protection money, and has started abducting and even killing some of those refusing to comply. 

Although Mexico has so far escaped the worst of the crisis, it’s no time to come and visit.

Credit: Alejandro Tamayo / Getty

The US-Mexico border remains closed to “non-essential” travel, even though flights are still operating between the two countries. And although many have contemplated spending their days in la cuarentena on the beautiful beaches – don’t waste your time. All of Mexico’s more than 6,000 miles of beaches have been officially closed through the end of April. Some communities have gone even further and setup their own roadblocks to prevent visitors.

So do us all a favor, and #quedateencasa so we can all stay safe, sane, and healthy.