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The purple drink that Peruvians love conquers palates in New York

Chicha morada is a popular drink from Peru that is made with purple corn, apple, pineapple, lemon, sugar, and spices, and is often boiled for several hours. (Photos: Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times)
Chicha morada is a popular drink from Peru that is made with purple corn, apple, pineapple, lemon, sugar, and spices, and is often boiled for several hours. (Photos: Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times)

Several times a week, Claudia Berroa cooks purple peruvian corn with pineapple peels over low heat to make purple chicha at his restaurant, Claudy’s Kitchen, in Riverdale, in the Bronx. As the corn rises in the bubbling liquid, he thinks of her mother, who used to boil the drink over a wood fire in Lima. “I wanted to do it like my mom did,” she said.

In Peru, chicha morada is as popular as sweet iced tea in the American South, and since Peruvian chefs have opened restaurants in New York, it’s a must-have item on menus. Chefs typically spend more than two hours a day simmering corn with pineapple, apples, lime, sugar, and spices like cinnamon and cloves, and use chicha morada in cocktails, entrees, and desserts.

“They make it with warm Christmas spices, but it’s very refreshing,” said Erik Ramirez, chef and partner at Llama Inn in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who likens the drink to “Christmas on the beach.” Ramírez simmers the liquid for 45 minutes, lets the ingredients sit while it chills overnight, then adds sugar and freshly squeezed lemon. The restaurant’s most popular cocktail, Llama del Rey, is based on chicha morada.

The chicha morada simmers in a large pot with purple corn and pineapple shells for about two hours.
The chicha morada simmers in a large pot with purple corn and pineapple shells for about two hours.
Claudia Berroa, owner and chef of Claudy's Kitchen, used to make chicha morada with her mother in Lima, Peru over a wood fire.
Claudia Berroa, owner and chef of Claudy’s Kitchen, used to make chicha morada with her mother in Lima, Peru over a wood fire.

Although the chronology of its origins is unclear, the drink existed before the Incassaid Nino Bariola, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Some evidence indicates that the drink was fermented in pre-colonial times, although it is not clear when the Peruvians changed the process to boiling or slow cooking. What is known is that by the 19th century, writers and travelers mentioned that chicha morada was prepared in this way, and there are indications that the drink was part of everyday life, as evidenced by some engravings by Francisco “Pancho” Fierro. .

At that time, chicha morada and a related product, a dessert called mazamorra morada, were also consumed by many people, particularly in Lima. In the 1950s, the drink featured prominently in Peruvian cookbooks, Bariola said, showing that there was “important consumption of chicha.”

“There are people who love it because we say it’s a natural Peruvian juice,” Victor Rojas, chef and owner of Inti at Hell’s Kitchen, said in Spanish. Rojas started serving the drink when he opened the restaurant in 2012. He now makes 20 liters a week, using a recipe taught to him by his parents at his home in Huánuco.

Recently, cooks have used chicha morada as a base in alcoholic beverages, often using it in a version of pisco soura Peruvian cocktail.

Chicha morada is a popular drink from Peru that is made with purple corn, apple, pineapple, lemon, sugar, and spices, and is usually boiled for several hours.
Chicha morada is a popular drink from Peru that is made with purple corn, apple, pineapple, lemon, sugar, and spices, and is usually boiled for several hours.
José Luis Chávez cooks up a plate of grilled octopus at Mission Ceviche on the Upper East Side, made with a chicha morada glaze.
José Luis Chávez cooks up a plate of grilled octopus at Mission Ceviche on the Upper East Side, made with a chicha morada glaze.

The purple chicha and the purple mazamorra are basic elements of a festivity that celebrates the Lord of Miracles, and that takes place throughout October. It has also been marketed with sweets and powdered drinks.

But for chefs like José Luis Chavez of Mission Ceviche on the Upper East Side, chicha morada provides inspiration. This summer, he served a special short rib with a chicha morada glaze with soy sauce. He has also prepared grilled octopus with that sauce and is trying a chicha morada dessert in the form of corn on the cob.

Chavez does 40 liters of chicha morada at least twice a week. Has become the most popular drink in the restaurant and it is also a basic ingredient in their version of pisco sour.

At the Llama Inn restaurant in Brooklyn, the chicha morada is strained after simmering and then chilled overnight with all the ingredients.
At the Llama Inn restaurant in Brooklyn, the chicha morada is strained after simmering and then chilled overnight with all the ingredients.

“This is ours,” Chavez said. And he explains that it is a drink that all Peruvians share with prideeager to see the delight it produces when someone takes it for the first time.

© The New York Times 2022

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