Today's comment in class about "Peasant Bread," and foods which have connotations of socioeconomic class reminded me of a beverage in Mexico, which is also inseparable from the idea of class. Pulque is an alcoholic drink, which has been consumed in Central Mexico for hundreds of years. Its consumption predates even the Aztec empire, and is a remnant of Mexico's pre-Columbian past. Before the Spanish Conquest, it was a ceremonial drink used in certain rituals.
Pulque is made from fermenting the sap of the maguey cactus (Maguey is like the cousin of the blue agave used for making tequila). The sap is extracted by making a series of incisions in the center of the plant, which is then placed in jars to sit for days while it ferments. Once finished, it must be drunk that same day before it spoils. For this reason one cannot find authentic pulque outside of Mexico. In fact, one cannot really find authentic pulque outside of central Mexico.
This summer I worked on an archaeological excavation in Central Mexico. The locals that were hired as field-hands, brought pulque with them every day. They would drink it by cutting a maguey leaf with a machete and using that as an improvised cup to pass around. Pulque tastes unlike anything else I have ever drank or eaten. It has a milky color, a sweet-sour taste, and is very frothy and slimy. One needs to drink it cautiously because it continues fermenting in one's stomach.
In Mexico, there is a stigma against Pulque. It is viewed as the indian's drink, as a low-class drink. People who drink pulque are viewed as atrasados (to be behind in the times), compared to people who drink beer or hard alcohol. This was exhibited in a conversation I had with a cousin. He could not believe I had drunk pulque, he said he would never drink it because of the way it was made. He believed an urban legend that pulque was made by placing a bag of human excrement in the maguey sap to start the fermentation. This shows the misconception and stigma many people have about all things indigenous, rural, etc. I assure you, my reader, that no human excrement is involved in the production process. The sap ferments on its own. Most likely, the myth arose out of propaganda when beer was first introduced to Mexico. Therefore, don't be afraid! If you ever visit Central Mexico I encourage you to try it and partake in this 100% Mexican tradition!