Long-time (and, due to one of last week’s posts, recent) visitors to this blog know that I won’t say no to trying out new foods or new drinks, especially those that have either been recommended by fellow food-bloggers and friends or those that have intrigued me after reading about them online, in some magazine, or cookbook. Horchata is one of these things.
Horchata is a Spanish beverage with Arabic roots: the earliest accounts of it in Spain date it back to the period of the Moorish Occupation (711 – 1492). In the Valencian dialect, the name is spelled as orxata – literally, “barley water” – because it was made from the water used for soaking barley in the old days. Later on, the process was used to extract sweet drinks from groundnuts (tigernuts), almonds, rice, and even sesame seeds. If made with almonds, sugar, and rose water (or lemon zest) and boiled down to a thick syrup, the resulting liquid becomes what is known as orgeat and is used to flavor baked goods though it can also be diluted with water for a refreshing drink. Horchata in the modern context, on the other hand, is usually made with either tigernuts or rice; it is thinner, looks like milk, and is usually made with sugar and cinnamon.
In this part of the world, the only place where I’ve encountered the drink is at the Salcedo Saturday Market where a stall specializing in Mexican street food offers the stuff in two variants: plain with a shot of milk (horchata con leche) and chocolate. I like them both: the plain one shown at the top of this post is subtly milky and is richly flavored with vanilla and a hint of cinnamon; the wee cubes of almond and coffee jelly at the bottom of the drink add to the visual and textural interest. The chocolate, on the other hand, is somewhat gritty textured at first sip (probably because of the cacao used for flavoring the drink), but it grows on you: the grittiness gives way to a dusky, smoky chocolatiness amped by the sweet, spicy cinnamon.
Whichever you choose to order, you’re in for a refreshing treat. For some odd reason, I find it more restorative than, say, plain water or some sugary soda especially on a scorching day.