HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The countdown to Christmas for many Texans means reuniting with family, tasty foods and traditions. Aside from tamales and posole, a cold-weather, holiday staple for many in South Texas is champurrado.
What is champurrado?
The term champurrado itself means to mix random things.
Melissa Guerra, a Texas food historian and PBS series host known as the “Kitchen Wrangler,” described it best as if you go to a party and someone has the wise idea to mix all the alcohol together.
Regionally, it is known as a Mexican chocolate-based atole beverage, typically served hot.
Campurrado is a Spanish word that took on a meaning of “champurriar,” or to mix. Guerra said the South Texas region, which used to be part of Mexico, was home to many indigiounous peoples who made atoles, or water with maza and chocolate.
A stirring history
Although the Americas did not have plants like tea and coffee native to the area, South Texas did have chocolate and corn — the basis of the Mexican champurrado.
Hispanic countries like Cuba and others all over the world, have their own variation of champurrado, some of which contain alcohol.
The porridge-like beverage earned its name from humble beginnings. Made with hot water and maza, it serves as a cheap and efficient filler.
“The good thing about hot water is it it fills you up,” Guerra said. “So, if you don’t have a lot of food, because a lot of… our cuisine (along the border) wasn’t made for kings and queens. It was made for people who work.”
Chocolate gives it more flavor and gives you some energy to get you going.
Guerra said she finds beauty in the significance of champurrado and what it reveals about the struggles of those in the Rio Grande Valley—especially since it is original to the region.
“We’re not talking about a frappuccino or a hot tea with brandy,” she said. “Like not that at all. We’re talking about champurrado that is totally 100% us. … It’s an absolutely original hot beverage from Mexico. Nobody else came in and did anything better to it.”
How to make champurrado
The drink is made of maza (often the same maize used to make tamales), Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, clove, anise and piloncillo. The beverage typically simmers over low heat and thickens once cooled.
While typically made at home, some Mexican restaurants in South Texas carry the rich, hot cocoa-like drink.
In Alamo, a cooked named Loli shared her recipe with ValleyCentral.
The cook said her restaurant begins serving the drink in late October and throughout the holiday season. She makes hers with Abuelita chocolate, milk, water, cinnamon, animal cookies, mazeca and piloncio.
When asked about her steps for making the drink, Loli responded that she throws it all together and lets it come to a boil.
The drink is popular among Carmelita’s customers, she said. The restaurant’s owner, Rosa De Perez, said the drink is often requested during breakfast time in the winter and is served with a piece of toast or bread.
For one Harlingen man, the holiday season means tamales and champurrado with his wife and kids.
Reynaldo Sauceda Jr., a Harlingen resident, said the hearty beverage is something his wife, from Veracruz, makes annually for their family.
The drink is so filling and rich, he often drinks it like a meal, he said. However, there is no need because his home is typically stocked with yummy foods during the Christmas season.