16 weird & wonderful Central & South American drinks you need to try
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Every region has its fair share of concoctions that seem alien to the average foreigner, and beverages that would be an absolute crying shame to leave an area without trying. Latin America is no different, with an eclectic mix of drinks ranging from warm & homely to absolutely lethal. Here is a collection of our favourite Central & South American drinks that you need to try when you’re travelling here. The quickest way to get immersed in a new culture is to get stuck into getting smashed as the locals do.
If you’re in the area to dabble in drinks of the alcoholic variety, my guide to party destinations in South America can definitely help you out on what to expect when you get on the South American drinks sesh. Latin Americans don’t typically binge on alcohol like us Brits do, but they sure like a traditional tipple or two.
After this post on the weird and wonderful Central & South American drinks, you’ll also enjoy:
Along the same lines as a shandy, refajo is a mix of beer and soda – whether cola, malta or a more traditional Colombiana soda. It sounds fairly disgusting, but for people who aren’t that into beer, this is a perfect balance between wheat’n’sweet. In Colombia, we recommend trying Cola & Pola, a brand named after Policarpa Salavarrieta, a revolutionary woman who became a martyr for Colombian independence. Some Colombians still raise their glass to Pola when they drink. It’s definitely one of the more patriotic of South American drinks!
2. Mate in Uruguay & Argentina
One of the more addictive South American drinks, Yerba Mate to southern Latinos is as Yorkshire Tea is to the English. In Uruguay especially, it is normal for people to go to stroll around the streets or office with a mate cup (or gourd) in their hand and a giant thermos of hot water nestled under their arm so that they can continually top the gourd up. Mate is a bitter, acquired taste, but it gives you a nice caffeine buzz, and it’s seen as ok to add sugar if you’re new to trying it. You can also get flavoured mate, such as mint, which we liked the most.
How to drink mate: the straw and then mate leaves are put into the gourd (lots of it!) and boiling water added, then it’s left to brew before the first sip through the straw. Once the tea is done, the same batch of mate leaves are topped up with more water to go again in a seemingly endless cycle.
Although everyone has their own individual gourds, mate is a social drink, so if you’re in a circle you will likely get offered it, and if you accept you’re expected to finish what’s in the gourd and then pass it back to the server to be topped up for the next person. Only say ‘gracias’ when passed to you if you don’t want any more.
Also, never ever underany circumstance move the straw – this will make the leaves go up into the straw and will upset the sacred ritual of mate drinking.
3. Api in Bolivia
Made from yellow corn or purple corn, these homely South American drinks are served hot at breakfast, and you can normally specify whether you would like one colour corn or a marbled mix of the two (recommended!). In the chilly heights of this country, such a sweet, homely drink makes you feel all snuggly and warm. If you get this on a street stall, you may be offered it in a glass that you give back to the vendor, or even in a plastic bag with a straw, like a goldfish at the fair.
4. Cheesy hot chocolate in Colombia
Whilst in Colombia the hot chocolate is rich and made with real melted chocolate, that’s not the reason we’ve included it in this list. What’s interesting is the cheese that often comes with it – that’s right, Colombians love to dip cheese chunks into their hot chocolate. Who’s keen to give this most simple of South American drinks a try?
5. Terremoto in Chile
Named ‘earthquake’ for the shakiness when drinking it and the headache it gives you the next day, locals advise that you have no more than 2 of these South American drinks in a session, or else prepare to feel its memory-wiping wrath. Made of pipeño (unfiltered, sweet fermented wine) and pineapple ice-cream, Terremotos are super sweet and very alcoholic, but are seen as a national gem in Chile.
6. Quinoa beer in Bolivia
If there’s one thing Bolivians love, it’s quinoa. And since they have an abundance of the stuff, some clever clogs came up with the bright idea to turn it into a beer that doesn’t actually taste as bad as you might expect. You can also get other odd varieties of Bolivian beer, such as cactus.
7. Jote in Chile
For Spaniards, this is just Kalimotxo. For everyone else in the world, prepare to change your wine-drinking forever. You see, jote is a mix of red wine and Coca-Cola, and it’s delish. It also helps you pace yourself at parties, so it’s a great option for people trying to keep up with Brits or Aussies on a sesh. We put away South American drinks just as quickly as we do room-temperature lager!
8. Canelazo in Ecuador & Colombia
Alcoholic or non-alcoholic
Canelazo is one of my favourite South American drinks, mainly because it tastes good whilst also helping me get through a cold day. Perfect for the Andean hills, this sweet, cinnamonny water wrap you up within its warm embrace to beat the altitudinal chills. It is often made alcoholic using an aniseedy Colombian spirit called aguardiente. It’s often sold out of big pots from street stalls.
Not so much weird, but definitely wonderful. Caipirinha is a cocktail that’s drunk like water at Brazilian parties. This more impactful of South American drinks mostly made up of cachaça (a strong spirit derived from sugar cane), with smushed lime and sugar added to make it marginally less deadly – and way more tasty.
10. Pisco Sour in Peru
This is Peru’s national jewel. They’re fiercely proud of it, and adamant that it was the Peruvians and not the Chileans who invented it (this is a centuries-old debate that gets rather animated). Pisco is a light-coloured Peruvian brandy made from grapes, and is added to lime juice, syrup, egg whites and Angostura bitters to create this tangy cocktail.
11. Mote con huesillo in Chile
This one probably looks the least attractive of our list of South American drinks. Seeing a peach rolling around in the bottom of a glass kind of reminded us of preserved animals in biology class. Chileans use either honey or sugar to create a ‘nectar’ liquid, and then add a dried and then rehydrated peach and some husked wheat. The result is very sweet!
12. Chicha in the Andes
Alcoholic or non-alcoholic
Chicha is one of the most ancient South American drinks. This Andean wonder is made from maíz/corn. It’s a little sweet, and can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Traditionally, the maíz was crushed up for brewing by being chewed and spat out into water by the women of the village. We were assured that this no longer happens to commercially-sold chicha… Chicha Morada is a darker twist on this using purple corn. In Peru, Chicha Morada is drunk as much as Coca-Cola.
4 Central American drinks you mustn’t miss
1. Horchata in Mexico & Guatemala
Mmmm now this is some vanilla-y goodness. Made out of rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon, horchata is right up my street. It’s crazy refreshing on a hot day, and a bit filling in that weird gap between lunch and your late-afternoon snack (that’s a thing, right?).
2. Chiliguaro in Costa Rica
For over a decade, I have longed for a spirit that has all the punch of vodka but all the flavour of water. In guaro, we have found it. However, not satisfied with discovering the world’s most drinkable alcohol (it’s made from sugar cane, like cachaça), Costa Ricans add hot sauce and sometimes spices to turn it into the most dangerous soup you’ve ever drunk in a bar.
Though most commonly a shot, it has been known for chiliguaro to be served in larger glasses like a filthy gazpacho. Deadly. I’m usually slaughtered at the point of ordering chiliguaro, so the bottom of the below image is the best I can provide right now.
3. Peanut Punch in Belize
I guess this does exactly what says on the tin/bottle. This Caribbean drinks is one of those oddities that crop up every now and then and get you wondering why on earth it hasn’t been brought to Europe yet.
4. Panamania in Costa Rica
Ok, so I add this in jest. Panamania is a drink borne of an extremely drunken night with our volunteer friends in Puerto Viejo and has become one our our favourite drinks from Latin America. Somehow in the chaos, a new delicacy was discovered, bringing together the punchy flavour of cheap Abuelo rum with the potentially life-ending caffeine of Jet energy drink – 1:1 ratio, of course. Try it if you dare.
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