Coquito (or, The Gringo Meets Ron Cana)
Ahhhh. The Holidays. A time for warmth and celebration with family and friends. In Puerto Rico it is a particularly busy time, as there are numerous observance days which entail ritual, feasting, and fellowship. There are special foods to go along with these special days, such as pasteles. Pasteles are similar to the tamale, from Mexico, but only in the general concept. Pasteles are made from plantain, bananas, potato, and taro root which is mashed into a dough of sorts. The dough is spread on banana leaf and meat filling is added, typically roasted pork, and the tied banana leaf is then boiled. I was fortunate enough to have a dozen pasteles prepared for me by a local family in Puerto Rico.
Additionally, I have been introduced to Coquito, another holiday treat that is particular to Puerto Rico. Coquito is often described as a type of egg nog, although eggs are not mandatory. The process is simple: combine coconut milk, coconut cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, and the secret ingredient of your choice (every family has its own recipe, you see) along with the optional egg yolks, blend for a minute, and you have it. Healthy and delicious.
In my case, there was a twist.
The family who graciously took me under their wings had their own secret ingredient: Ron Cana. Ron Cana, or cane rum, is the island equivalent of moonshine. Illegal, traditional, highly prized, and delicious. As I am told, the preparation takes years and involves a mystical process whereby the rum mash is buried underground. Families have been making this stuff for generations in Puerto Rico and there are definitely bragging rights involved.
So how did it taste?
It was unbelievable. I was instantly transported to a place of sunshine, laughter, well being, and mischievousness with the first glass. The flavor was purely tropical: smooth and exquisite, bright and sensual, relaxing and invigorating all at once. That was a night to remember, truly, and then…
Oh yes. 100% pure pain – lightning between the eyes and thunder in the ears. I wasn’t hungover, trust me, I’m well aware of my limits. But I got a massive headache the next day that just wouldn’t let up. Sure, you could point out that illegally distilled liquor is bound to have a side effect or two, but me? I’m blaming the iguanas. Yep. Those damn critters are the root of all evil. more on that in future posts.