I don’t know about your neck of the wood but it is fracking cold here in Ottawa. So I keep thinking about having a cup of aguapanela, nice and steamy. With lots of cheese in it.
Aguapanela (or aguadepanela ==> panela water) is a very common beverage in Colombia. It can be served steaming hot (great as part of a meal or to cure the common cold) or cold to quench the thirst in a hot day, which is pretty much every day in most cities in the torrid zone .
I can even be fermented to various degrees to make a drink called guarapo. The longer you let it ferment, the higher the alcohol content will be. Guarapo is the prefered beverage of farmers who take it with them to drink all day while working in the fields. The flavour is very particular and guarapo is an acquired taste. I don’t mind it fresh but I can’t stand the most fermented one.
A hot cup of aguapanela is the he best that can happen to you when you’re sick. I have nice memories of my mother bringing me a hot cup of aguapanela with lime juice when I was little – and sick, to make me feel better. Yes, I know it sounds contradictory. I was sick and yet it is a nice memory? But hey, it involves my mother taking care of me and delicious aguapanela! So, yeah.
However, like I said, we don’t just have aguapanela when we’re sick. We also have it for our “onces”.
You see, Colombians, in a very hobbit-like manner, enjoy 5 or 6 meals a day if they can get them. There’s desayuno (breakfast, when you wake up, usually at 6 am), mediasnueves or mediamañana (around midmorning), almuerzo (lunch – at noon*), onces (around 4-5 pm), comida (dinner – around 8 pm). On certain special days like Nochebuena (Christmas Eve with its famous Cena Navideña), New Year’s Eve or others, there’s a 6th meal – cena, around midnight**.
Aguapanela con queso is very popular for our onces, accompanied with bread and butter. The cheese melts and after that, it’s all heavenly yumminess.
There’s a funny story about Panela. Back in the 20th century, the Europeans actually thought Colombian cyclists competing at cycling races (think Tour De France) were eating bricks and that’s why there were so strong. They were eating chunks of panela to keep their sugar levels up. True story.
Sadly, panela is also associated with socioeconomic issues. I had to deal with many cases of kwashiorkor during my time at the third level hospital. That’s the problem with poverty in third world countries. Also, because guarapo is so cheap and easy to make, it’s widely drank by farmers, cirrhosis is very common among the peasant folk.
Regardless Colombians do love their panela. Some people use it to sweeten their coffee and other beverages – hot or cold, including limade***. Panela-sweetened limade is delicious. And not to be confused with aguapanela with lime, which is a hot beverage and has a very different taste.
Panela is also used to make melao, a thick syrup that goes very well with – yes, you guessed right, cheese!
As you can see panela is a very versatile food. And it’s dirt cheap. No wonder Colombians like it so much. Not because Colombians are cheap but because they poor. At least 90% of the population is, in any case.
* Yes, I cheated. Half of this post was originally part of another post, which I wrote under the influence of cold/flu medicine. I revisited that post today because someone on Twitter asked me how Colombian hot chocolate was made, and realized it was really two posts in one. Since that didn’t make any sense, I cut the part about panela and pasted it here. Wham! Just like that, I have a brand new post. Also, I’m lazy. Actually, that’s not true. I ended up doing a lot of research for it. About two hours of it, yo!
** Lemon => Lima. Lime => limón. Go figure. And yes, Wikipedia and my high school English teacher have it wrong. Lemon does NOT mean limón. I learned this the hard way when I first moved to Canada.
*** Colombians don’t drink lemonade. Or have much use for lemons.
Panela: In sickness and in health (bogotaeatsanddrinks.com)
Melao de Panela - (mycolombianrecipes.com)