I was lucky I was born in East LA. East Los Angeles, California. Cue the Cheech Marin song!
I feel lucky because I grew up in such a diverse part of our country. As we moved around southern California, I met people of different cultures and backgrounds. As a college student (I ended up studying anthropology), I had friends that connected me to their families, communities and their food. It helped develop my “taste buds.” But that is not the biggest reason I feel lucky about being born an “Angeleno.”
We were close to the border.
My grandmother (on my mom’s side) and my tíos and tías (uncles and aunts) lived in Mexicali, Baja California. We were close enough that we would visit often and I always had a great time.
I remember the tortilleria (a tortilla factory) that was half a block away from my abuelita’s house. A few of my uncles worked there and would make us feel important when we came in for tortillas. One of my uncles married someone he met while working there and now I call her “Tía.” We would walk down to get fresh tortillas right before dinner. We usually ordered a kilo. That was my first introduction to the metric system! And the tortillas were delicious.
Another memory is walking into town and visiting the market, a very different experience from the supermarket back home. Aside from the fresh fruit and vegetables, the street vendors with the mango, cucumber, watermelon and pineapple spears sprinkled with chile and limón, I noticed the aguas frescas. Back then, my favorite was horchata because it was very sweet and had cinnamon in it. Now I prefer agua de tamarindo, but especially agua de jamaica. I love the refreshing, tart taste on a hot summer day. It’s the Mexican version of iced tea.
Diana Kennedy, author of The Essential Cuisines of Mexico (2000), has a recipe for agua de jamaica in her book. This is what she says about it:
“Despite the tremendous popularity of commercial bottled drinks all over the country, from the capital to the smallest mountain hamlet, the red watermelon, pale green lime, or orangey-brown tamarind waters, sweetened and kept cool with huge chunks of ice, are sold from huge glass or earthenware containers in marketplaces, by the street vendors, or in a few of the more traditional restaurants. This is one of them: acidy and refreshing, it is colored by the deep red calyx of the Hibiscus sabdariffa.” (p. 449)
Here is how to make it and some other ways to make it more interesting.
Agua de Jamaica
3/4 – 1 cup dried jamaica flowers
4 cups cold water
1/3 cup granulated sugar or agave nectar, to taste
1 lime, juiced (or more to taste)
Put the flowers and 3 cups of water together into a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Let the flowers boil for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the water, if necessary and let it cool.
Once it is cool, strain the liquid into a pitcher and add more water and/or sugar, depending on your taste. Add the lime juice. Let it cool some more (a few hours) in the refrigerator and it is ready to serve over ice.
I like mine a bit strong and tart, especially if I’m going to make some of the drinks below. If you are going to use the agua de jamaica to make these drinks, don’t add the extra cup of water. Your drink will be nice and strong in jamaica flavor. Enjoy!
3 cups agua de jamaica
1 1/4 cup tequila (silver/blanco)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup Triple Sec
Mix the ingredients and serve over ice. You can add a lime slice as a garnish.
Makes enough for 6-8 drinks.
This is a recipe that I found in a book from our local public library called Meatless Mexican Home Cooking by Nancy Zaslavsky. This recipe calls for 5 – 6 cups of agua de jamaica, so you can adapt it to however much you want to make. It is a very simple drink.
5 – 6 cups agua de jamaica
1 bottle (750 mL) red wine, chilled (like a Beaujolais Nouveau)
2 cups orange juice, chilled
Ice, as needed
1 orange, sliced
Pour the agua de jamaica into a punch bowl. Add the wine, orange juice and ice. Stir. Top with the orange slices and serve.
Martini de Jamaica
I found this recipe that used agua de jamaica to make a martini on the mexconnect.com website. I like it with vodka.
1 1/2 ounces agua de jamaica
1 1/2 ounces gin or vodka
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a slice of lime. Makes one serving.
– – –
Here are some links about La Flor de Jamaica or Hibiscus flower, and one extra link. I was surprised to learn it is used around the world. This flower is making the world beautiful and delicious!
Some people think it has medicinal/health value, though I don’t think that has been scientifically tested or proven. I’ll try to find out.
- Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca (marenellingboe.com)
- Cool Down This Summer: Agua Fresca Picante (jeffparkercooks.com)