When you think of Mexican alcohol, what comes to mind? Maybe a very light lager made for sipping on a hot summer day. Or maybe something a little stronger, like tequila. Or maybe even mezcal, tequila’s smokier cousin. If you are a drinker, you will want to enjoy all of these things during your stay in Mexico City. But none of these are probably difficult to find, in one form or another, in your home country. If you want a truly unique central Mexican drinking experience that you are unlikely to find anywhere else, you should try pulque.
Before coming to Mexico City, I had never even heard of pulque, much less tried it or seen it for sale. Pulque is made by fermenting the sap of the maguey plant. Apparently, the nature of the drink is such that it cannot be stored long before going bad, which means it is difficult to bottle and export it, though I have hard reports of it being sold in a can in the States. So one of the only ways to try pulque (or at least fresh pulque) is to come to Mexico. And the place it is sold is a specialized bar called a “pulqueria,” not to be confused with a “peluqueria,” which is where you would get a haircut.
Pulque comes in basically two varieties. You can get it natural or flavored with different fruit juices. I suggest you try both. The natural variety is necessary to get the full pulque experience. Imagine a beverage that basically looks like milk, but thicker like an aloe vera drink. One chilanga described the texture and the flavor to me as basically like semen. In my experience, however, it has a mildly unpleasant odor, like you’d imagine from fermentation, but almost no real flavor. The flavored varieties share the same texture, but take on the flavor of the juice you have chosen. Imagine a milky beverage flavored with strawberries or pineapple.
Pulque has a very long history in Mexico, dating back at least a thousand years. If you visit the Aztec wing of the Museo de Antropología (you should), you can see original stone vessels that the Aztecs drank pulque from. These vessels are shaped like conejos (rabbits in Spanish) in tribute to the Centzon Totochtin, a group of mythological rabbits that met to engage in drunken parties (fueled no doubt by pulque). The consumption of pulque peaked in the 19th century and declined in the 20th, when it began to be associated with the poor. As a result, most Chilangos today view pulque as kind of a low class drink. And if you ask most of them if they like it or have tried it, they will say definitely not. But I’ve heard that it has started to have a bit of a revitalization among younger folks as kind of a hip celebration of Mexican culture. Nevertheless, most pulquerias continue to be a little bit seedy and run down, frequented mostly by old men drinking during the day. You can find one in your neighborhood by searching for pulqueria on Yelp.
If you want to try pulque in a younger and hipper environment, try Pulqueria Los Insurgentes right in the tourist neighborhood of Roma Norte. Pulqueria Los Insurgentes is basically a four story night club with several dance floors, a roof deck, and several rooms with tables for drinking pulque (and other drinks) and talking to your friends. The pulque natural is actually cheaper than water here, setting you back only about 20 pesos. So it might even be the cheapest drink you have on your trip.