Taking the Market by Hand

by Iliana de la Vega and Isabel Torrealba

When taking a stroll through any market in Mexico, one of the first things that catches your eye is the beautiful range of colors exploding from myriad fruits piled on stands. Familiar fruits, such as watermelons, pineapples, strawberries and mangoes, vie for your attention, alongside other more exotic varieties, such as guanábanas, chirimoyas, mameys, zapotes and papayas. And it’s common to see people buying large cases of these different seasonal delights—the majority of which will soon be transformed into delicious drinks. 

There are three kinds of fruit drinks that can be found at the market stands: aguas frescas, jugos and licuados (“fresh waters,” “juices” and “blendeds,” respectively). Aguas frescas, also known as aguas de sabor (flavored waters), are sometimes fruit purees and sometimes fruit infusions mixed with water. They’re most commonly enjoyed during lunchtime, which is the main and most important meal in Mexico. These drinks are a long-standing tradition in the culture, and used as a healthy alternative to soft drinks. Commonly, sugar is added for sweetness and flavor, though I prefer to use lime juice and lime zest instead, to enhance and stabilize the natural sugar already present in the fruit. 

Aguas frescas often contain more than just fruit, water and sugar. Some include ingredients such as tamarind, rice, chia seeds, oats, dried corn, cacao, flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flower) or even vegetables. In some regions of Mexico, the fruit is first muddled and then water, ice and sugar are added. These fruit drinks are known as machacados de frutas. In Veracruz, when sparkling water is added, the name of the drink is champola. 

The major difference between aguas frescas and licuados is that the former is water-based and the latter milk-based, thus more filling. Because many people drink this beverage for breakfast, the market stands that sell licuados are particularly popular during the morning. Many stands let you pick and choose from a number of flavor combinations that can include vanilla, powdered Mexican canela, sugar, oats, shredded coconut, pecans, granola, cocoa powder and an assortment of fruits and vegetables. Two of my favorite combinations include strawberry, pecan and vanilla, or the extremely simple licuado de mamey made from mamey fruit, a delicious tropical Mexican fruit that tastes of caramel, vanilla and a hint of coffee.

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Market stands that sell licuados will generally have jugos, as well—from the simple-yet-delicious freshly squeezed orange juice or pressed carrot juice, to the more complicated carrot-orange-papaya blend or even the vampiro (vampire), made with carrots, beets and orange juice. A very popular option is the jugo verde (green juice), which some use as an aid to losing weight. Many people incorporate vegetables such as celery, cilantro, parsley and nopal (cactus paddle).

And if you should ever find yourself suffering from a night of “overindulgence of spirits” while in Mexico, head to the nearest market and order an off-the-menu blended drink called a polla. Its blend of orange juice, sweet sherry and raw eggs will have you back on track in no time.