On a cold and rainy Saturday in December, every table is full at Tacos El Nevado on Central Avenue, and more people are streaming in. “Se Vende Champurrado” – champurrado for sale – says the small sign taped to the door.
Early winter is time for the warm comfort of champurrado, a drink that’s been part of Mexican culture since before the Spanish arrived 500 years ago. If you haven’t had it, you’ll think first of hot chocolate. Indeed, Mexico gave chocolate to the world. There’s cinnamon in there, too, and milk and sugar.
The not-so-secret ingredient that gives it body and creaminess is masa, the traditional Mexican corn flour also found in tortillas.
Heriberto Mali and wife Vianey Juarez started Tacos El Nevado about five years ago. They’re from the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, close to where archeologists think corn and chocolate originated. When Mexicans in Charlotte discovered the restaurant, “they began asking my mom for champurrado,” recalls daughter Nereyda Mali.
From early December to mid-January, “we make two or three huge pots every day,” says Nereyda. “It’s a tradition – champurrado and cold weather.”
What to order with your champurrado? The drink’s mild sweetness nicely balances a plate of al pastor tacos. Gently spiced marinated pork is garnished with chopped onions and cilantro, then nestled into tortillas that Vianey Juarez makes one-by-one on a hand press.
Ancient Mayans drank champurrado from carved stone bowls, say archeologists. You can share that tradition – in a white Styrofoam cup.
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss the “Food from Home” section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.
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