THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
One of Mexico’s most loved drinks, pulque, is not very well-known outside the country. Everyone knows about tequila, and many have heard of mezcal, but far less have tried Mexico’s other potable wonder. Pulque, like tequila and mezcal is derived from the maguey plant, but unlike its alcoholic friends, it is not a distilled hard alcohol. Instead, it is a fermented beverage made from maguey sap with a thicker, viscous consistency. In it’s natural state, it has a yeasty, sour taste and a white color, but it can be made in virtually any flavor, resulting in a wide range of colors. These flavored pulques are called “curados.” At first glance, pulque’s viscous consistency, may dissuade people from trying it.
Pulque was originally called “ixtac octli,” meaning “white liquor” in Nahuatl. The word pulque is said to have been a misinterpretation by the Spanish of octli poliuhqui, meaning rotten liquor. But whatever the meaning, the drink has been enjoyed on the American continent for at least a millennium. It’s rich history can be traced back to 200 BCE, where it was depicted in stone carvings, however its origin has been lost amongst myths. Some say that it was discovered when a noble found a tlacuache (a Mexican species of opossum) who had become drunk off of the plant’s secretions after digging into a maguey using its human-like hands. Others say that the sap is the blood of Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of maguey.
During the Pre-Hispanic era there were strict rules as to who was allowed to consume the sacred beverage. It was usually reserved for special festivals and religious events, including sacrifices in which the priests and victims were allowed to sip on the ancient booze. For everyday consumption, pulque was limited to people over the age of 60. If someone younger was caught drinking the beverage, their head was shaved. A second offense was punishable by death. Other that priests, elders and nobles, pregnant women were also allowed to consume the drink, due to its nutritional value.
With the arrival of the Spanish, pulque began to be more commercialized. Production of the drink boomed after the Mexican Independence war, when the regulations imposed on pulque producers relaxed and a new sense of nationalism increased. Pulque was at its most popular in the late 1800s, being enjoyed by people of all social classes. The government collected taxes on public drunkenness and the first pulquerías (Mexican pulque taverns) began to pop up. Pulquerías were, until relatively recently, a place for only men. Women were prohibited from entering, as it was considered a social faux-pas. Later, women were accepted but were seated in a separate area from men.
Around the time of the Mexican Revolution pulque popularity began to decline, as its production became increasingly difficult due to the war. Later, in 1930, the Lázaro Cárdenas government actively campaigned against the drink in order to curve alcohol consumption entirely.
Later, the introduction of beer to Mexico and its competition with pulque caused the latter to become even more unpopular. European brewers began spreading rumors that pulque was fermented with human feces and it began to be associated with the lower class, while beer was seen as the more “hygienic and modern” option.
However, despite its later reputation, pulque is quite nutritious and it has remained relatively popular among the young, who value its tradition. Studies have found that it contains vitamin C, iron, amino acids, and carbohydrates, among other vitamins and minerals. There is even a popular saying that says that pulque “is just a degree away from being meat.”
The pulque production process is a long and complicated one. The maguey requires some 12 years of maturation before its sap, also called “aguamiel,” can be extracted and used. Aguamiel is potable straight from the plant, but to become alcoholic it requires a fermentation process that can start in the plant itself, which can produce up to six liters per day. Maguey plants can produce aguamiel for a maximum of six months and can yield even 600 liters.
Next, the aguamiel is put into fermentation vats called “tinas,” which are made of oak, plastic or fiberglass. Then, mature seed pulque called “semilla” is added into the liquid to start the process. The fermenting agent is a bacterium of the Zymomonas mobilis species rather than the yeast used in the production of beer. Fermentation takes from one to two weeks and a number of variables such as temperature and humidity affect it, making each batch of pulque slightly different. The fermentation process continues throughout the shelf life of pulque, and as such, it must be consumed within a certain amount of time before it becomes undrinkable.
Even though pulque lost followers in the 20th century, the drink sill holds great importance in Mexico today and is seeing a resurgence in popularity among young people. While some of the oldest pulquerías still stand, mostly frequented by an older crowd, many new and trendy pulquerías are opening and are filled with a younger following.
At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 1,000 pulquerías were located in Mexico City alone. We set out to find some of Mexico City’s most famous pulquerías both old and new.
Pulquería los Insurgentes $$$
Av. de los Insurgentes Sur 226, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺 Los Insurgentes is a newer pulquería with a younger crowd and hip vibe. The unique and fun thing about this spot is that they have three different floors and each floor has different pulque flavors. You can also order food and enjoy it and your pulque on the rooftop on the third level. My favorite thing about Los Insurgentes is the options they offer. In most places, there is a handful of flavors to choose from, but here your selection is multiplied with every floor.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 Pulquería Los Insurgentes is one of the most iconic places among Mexico City’s young. Located within an enormous house from Porfirio Díaz’s time in the Roma neighborhood, Los Insurgentes offers pulque from Nanacamilpa in Tlaxcala. We had a natural pulque and red wine and pine nut curados. The natural was very fresh and not very viscous, something that I liked. The red wine pulque tasted only slightly like wine, but was tasty nonetheless. My favorite was the pine nut pulque, which was sweet and light, and reminded me of a milkshake. Los Insurgentes also offers a wide variety of beer, mezcal and food. We accompanied our pulques with a cheese and meat platter and an order of guacamole. Los Insurgentes is also known as one of the best places in the city to see a band or DJ.
Pulquería La Pirata $$
Calle 13 de Septiembre Esq. 12 de Diciembre, Miguel Hidalgo, Escandón I Secc
Nicole: 🍺🍺 This pulque destination has a more classic feel and is filled with older men. It’s a bit on the feíto side (our table had a bucket of celery underneath it), but it has its charm. The serving size is very big and brought to you in a giant pitcher. Although we couldn’t finish the entire pitcher, it definitely worth your money, as this was one of the cheaper places we went to on our pulque tour. Despite appearances, La Pirata offers the best value.
Guillermo: 🍺 Entering La Pirata is like entering a pulquería from the old times. The floor is covered in sawdust, the walls are covered in tiles, pulque is contained in big wooden barrels and the bathrooms are frankly a disgrace. Here, Nicole and I had a natural pulque and an oatmeal curado. It’s worth noting that this places serves little jars of the stuff, which contain something like a half-liter. The curado was good, slightly sour and yeasty, but very thick. The oatmeal pulque I found tastier, and it was sprinkled with some cinnamon powder.
Pulquería La Hija de los Apaches $$$
Calle Dr. Claudio Bernard 149, Cuauhtémoc, Doctores
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺 La Hija de los Apaches is a huge, open venue with tons of room to dance around, which is good because it also hosts bands and salsa dancing. Here we ordered natural and oatmeal.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 La Hija de los Apaches is a famous pulquería located in the ill-famed Doctores neighborhood. The face of its owner, Epifanio “El Pifas” Leyva can be seen covering the walls in various humorous homages, such as photoshops of Mexican currency or famous movie posters with the original faces changed for his. He can usually be seen drinking around the pulquería and is the frequent target of clients’ selfies. We ordered one natural pulque and an oatmeal curado. The first was sour and very thick, almost making me gag. The latter was more palatable, but still a little thick for a curado, which are usually lighter. La Hija de los Apaches also offers “caguamas,” 40 oz beer bottles, at a very affordable price. The place is also famous for the bands that play there, ranging from ska and rock bands to salsa groups, which transform the place from the usual pulquería into a dancing hall.
Pulquería Mi Bello Guerrero $$
Eje Uno Norte and Soto, Guerrero
Nicole: 🍺🍺 Mi Bello Guerrero, named for the neighborhood it is located in, is a colorful bar, both inside and out. The exterior features mural-like paintings and the interior is vibrantly decorated. It’s a pretty small space, but very open. The
natural was very sweet for me and tasted like artificial sweetener. We also tried a nut flavored one, which was topped with cinnamon and I also found to be too sweet.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺 Mi Bello Guerrero is located in the Guerrero neighborhood and it’s a little comfortable hole-in-the-wall. It is usually patronized by a younger crowd, in general university students who leave school early. We had a natural pulque and a walnut curado. The natural was a little sweet but with an acidic aftertaste that in no way marred the flavor. The curado was really hearty, thick but not in an unpleasant way. The place also provided us with complementary fried pork rinds.
Pulquería La Xochitl $$
Eligio Ancona and Jaime Torres Bodet, Cuauhtémoc, Sta María la Ribera
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺 One of the oldest pulquerías still standing in Mexico City, La Xochitl offers an experience very different from most pulquerías in the capital. According to La Xochitl regular Daniel Mendoza Alafita, it is “the most emblematic pulquería in Santa María de la Rivera.” What makes this place so unique is definitely
its age. Before walking in, the first thing you notice are the old fashioned swinging doors. Once inside you notice that the layout is also a little bit different. There is a closed-off section in the corner, which in back in the day used to be used as the women’s quarters. The floor also has a gutter and drain, which men utilized to relieve themselves. Like most pulquerías, La Xochitl also has an altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe. You will find this bar filled with local regulars, mostly older men who have been frequenting the establishment for years. Their natural pulque isn’t very thick, like most others. It has a thinner consistency and a sour flavor. The nut pulque however, was thick, and rich.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺 Allegedly one of the oldest pulquerías still operating in the city, La Xochitl is located in the Santa María la Ribera neighborhood, also one of the oldest in Mexico City. The interior is almost bare, feeling like and abandoned warehouse. It is adorned only by an ancient-looking jukebox and the presence of a cast of die-hard regulars. Nicole and I had a natural pulque and a walnut curado. The natural was slightly thick but not overtly sour. The curado was rich in flavor and very sweet.
La Malquerida $$$
92, Eje 1 Nte 92, Sta María la Ribera
Nicole: 🍺 This pulquería has a totally different feel. It’s neither old man dive bar or hip and trendy. It felt more like a club than anything else. The bar is always dark and it was jam packed with people. The natural pulque wasn’t too sweet, too sour or too thick. It had a more mild consistency and flavor and was very easy to take down. The apple one that we tried was thicker and foamy, with a creamy subtle flavor almost like a milkshake.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺 La Malquerida is also located in Santa María la Ribera, but is very much a modern bar, more so than a pulquería. Its walls are decorated with graffiti and pulque-related sayings, the lighting is kept low and music constantly surrounds the patrons. Pulque and beer are very affordable, although beer is only served in its caguama presentation. We tried a natural pulque and an apple curado. The natural was very drinkable, light and fresh, and mildly flavored. The apple curado was sweet, but I didn’t think it tasted very much like the fruit. La Malquerida is one of the most popular places in the neighborhood and as such is constantly crowded. Earlier in the day, the pulquería also offers a variety of food to go along with your drinks.
Pulquería Las Duelistas (price)
Calle Aranda 28, Cuauhtémoc, Centro
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Like La Xochitl, Las Duelistas is also know for being one of the oldest pulquerías in Mexico City and is also fully equipped with swinging saloon-style doors. The crowd however, is very different. Here you will find lots of young, hip people instead of an older crowd. It also has a huge space with bar seating. One of the most interesting things about the pulquería is that they offer four different sizes: glass, mug, liter and bucket. They also have the campechano option! This means you can order a half-and-half pulque, with one half being natural and the other your choice of curado. The natural was thick and tart and the celery one that we tried was sweet, subtle and rimmed with chamoy.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 Las Duelistas opened in 1912, making it 104 years old this October. Although it is probably the oldest pulquería still in operation in Mexico City, the place has changed over the years, and now it feels modern and hip. The walls feature the art of Guillermo Carreño, an urban artist who used to frequent the place, which depict the goddess Mayahuel and Aztec jaguar and eagle warriors. We tried a natural pulque and a celery curado. The natural was thick but tasty, and it was served slightly chilled, which helped me overcome its viscosity. In all honesty, I didn’t try the curado, as I hate celery. The place offers a wide variety of serving sizes, ranging from just a little glass to a “cubeta” or bucket, which contains almost two liters.
La Catedral del Pulque Salón Casino $$$
Calle Isabel la Catolica 250, Obrera
Nicole: 🍺🍺 Also one of the older pulquerías still in existence, Salón Casino is a must. The location is small and the walls are lined with framed photographs. Aside from pulque, they also serve food. Even though it is an old venue, it is mostly frequented by a young crowd. The most unique thing that Salón Casino has to offer is that they have two different options for natural: regular and sweet. We had the obligatory natural and rompope.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 Salón Casino is located in the Obrera neighborhood, and is, like Las Duelistas, a pulquería of old which over time became a hip and modernized place to attract the young. The place is small, adorned with effigies of the Guadalupe Virgin and bullfighting adornments. We tried a natural pulque and a rompope curado. Rompope is a beverage made with eggs, milk and vanilla, similar to eggnog, originally created by nuns in the city of Puebla. The natural pulque was too thick for my liking, but the rompope was sweet and cold and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The place also offers a variety of food, including tacos and hamburgers.
$- Less than 10 pesos
$$- 10-15 pesos
$$$- 15-20 pesos
$$$$- 20-25 pesos
$$$$$- 25 Over pesos
Guillermo and Nicole came up the idea of sampling Mexico City’s food joints because they wanted to offer readers a different perspective on Mexican food. Guillermo is a Mexico City transplant from Veracruz, and gives a Mexican point of view on food. Nicole is a Seattle native, recently arrived to one of the biggest metropolis in the world, and is happy to enjoy the many different dishes that the country has to offer, giving her unique point of view. Both enjoy stuffing themselves until the point of passing out, trying new things and experiencing local food and culture.
Up next: Tortas