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How a Mexico Metropolis Bar Reimagines an Historic Maya Drink

Tlecān, a minuscule mezcalería in Mexico Metropolis’s Roma neighborhood, is known as after the Náhuatl phrase that means “place of fireside,” and it lives as much as its title the second you step inside. 

A reddish-brown glow illuminates the area; smoke swirls underneath the darkish and moody lighting. The air is thick and smells of an earthy resin. Alongside the again wall stands a reproduction of the disc of dying, an iconic Aztec sculpture depicting Mictlantecuhtli, the god of dying. It’s one of many bar’s many tributes to pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition.

“The whole lot is designed in order that whoever is Mexican feels proud to be Mexican, and whoever isn’t is impressed and needs to be Mexican,” says Eli Martinez Bello, co-owner of the bar. The bartender led the beverage program at Pujol, a revered culinary vacation spot, for 5 years earlier than transitioning to her present position. 

Tlecān focuses on mezcal, providing 13 choices from small-batch makers throughout the nation who don’t export their merchandise exterior of Mexico. On the bar, you’ll be able to order any of the spirits neat, or take pleasure in them in plenty of cocktails that take inspiration from centuries-old, pre-Hispanic drinks like tascalate. 

Tascalate is greater than 3,000 years previous and originates from the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas. It performed a job within the historic Maya city-state of Palenque, the place greeting the king concerned bowing, then ingesting a full cup of tascalate as an indication of gratitude; abandoning any liquid was thought-about disrespectful. As we speak, the drink remains to be primarily present in Chiapas. 

“It’s a quite simple and fundamental refreshment,” says Bernardo Serna, a accomplice of the mezcalería, “however that’s precisely why tascalate has lasted so lengthy. Lengthy earlier than refrigeration started, individuals floor maíz, achiote and cacao into powder and preserved it. They survived winters by consuming this extremely nourishing liquid.” 

The drink itself is straightforward, made from pulverized toasted dry maíz (or corn), cacao and achiote (small, pink, kernel-like seeds), blended with water—its title comes from the Náhuatl phrases “tlaxcalli” (tortilla) and “atl” (water). The maíz lends the drink a thick texture and mineral style, whereas cacao brings bitter and candy notes adopted by the refined warmth of achiote. The whole lot is toasted earlier than being floor down right into a high-quality powder. Water is then fastidiously added to carry the tascalate to life. 

At Tlecān, the drink follows the same fundamental format. “We may have made these elements in-house at Tlecān, however as a substitute we need to help native artisans at any time when we are able to, so we buy these handmade merchandise in Chiapas,” provides Serna. In Chiapas, relying on the season, the drink is served piping sizzling or ice-cold and it’s now generally made with milk. However on the Mexico Metropolis bar, the place it takes the type of a bitter, it’s at all times chilled and made with water. 

“Tlecān makes use of the tascalate to pay homage to all maíz drinks akin to atole, tejate and champurrado—thick, cereal-like drinks that get their density from one of many oldest meals elements in Mexican tradition: maíz,” says Serna. The bar crew discovered that tascalate’s distinctive texture was finest suited to the bitter template, made right here with a base of mezcal complemented by egg white, agave nectar and lemon. “We use small-batch suppliers, so it’s attainable the mezcal within the drink can change on account of availability,” says Serna, “however the cocktail will at all times use a mezcal that’s earthy and a little bit acidic to carry out the flavour notes of the tascalate.” 

The top result’s a brick pink cocktail topped off with a thick egg white foam. Regardless of its daring shade, the Tascalate Bitter tastes gentle, shiny and earthy. It’s served in a coupe and completed with a dusting of fermented cacao powder. 

“We’re working to inform the story of many generations of Mexicans and the historical past behind a few of these conventional drinks,” says Martinez Bello, who serves her drinks alongside a modest meals menu of avenue meals staples, just like the pambacito, a tackle pambazo, a chunky bread roll dipped in salsa and full of chorizo, mashed potatoes and Chihuahua cheese. Different cocktail highlights embody the Todas Las Flores, a tackle tepache that’s ready with guanábana (soursop) and lavender; the Pulque Colada, the place pulque, a boozy fermented brew constructed from agave sap and known as “the drink of the Gods,” arrives contemporary from the Mexican state of Hidalgo and serves as the bottom; and the Ocelóyotl, which includes Veracruz’s conventional carajillo, a candy espresso drink, in its construct. 

On Instagram, Tlecān has almost 25,000 followers, however it follows solely 4 accounts—all cultural establishments. It’s a nod to the bar’s design, which is made to imitate a museum gallery; the Aztec statue replicates one at Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología. It’s the bar’s approach of claiming, “Should you love us, go study extra about us, our tradition,” says Serna. 

For the bar crew, Tlecān is a sacred area to pay tribute to pre-Hispanic traditions via connoisseur drinks and dishes which might be emblematic of Mexico. It’s an invite for company, Mexican and non-Mexican alike, to delve into the intensive historical past and wealthy tradition of the nation.

“I bought into mixology to inform tales,” Martinez Bello provides. “Then I noticed, there’s a lot that’s already occurred, issues we are able to’t overlook. So reasonably than inventing new [stories], I made this about going deep into Mexico’s historical past and tradition, and bringing it to individuals right here and now via drinks.”

Elizabeth Quan Kiu V. helped translate and fact-check this piece. She is a Spanish-language journalist, translator and educator. Born and raised in Mexico Metropolis, Elizabeth immigrated to Chicago within the Nineties. She’s fluent in English and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.



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