29 May 2008

Chocomíl de Fresas

The month of May is the hottest part of the year in Irapuato and we are anxiously awaiting the rainy season when things should cool off a bit. In the meantime we just have to grin and bear the heat. I mentioned to an American friend of mine that there is nothing that I like better on a hot day when I am worn out from walking around town in the heat than to buy a “chocomíl de fresas” and sit down in the shade and kill my hunger and thirst at the same time. He asked me if I didn’t mean a “chocolate milk” and I had to tell him “No, there isn’t any chocolate in my ‘chocomíl de fresas’ but there is milk and there are ‘fresas’ which in Spanish means strawberries”. My friend looked confused and that is understandable until I explained the contradiction. To do that, however, one must first take a step back in time. In 1928 the Proctor & Gamble Company (of Mexico) developed the first milk modifier to add supplemental vitamins and minerals to milk for Mexican children. The supplement came in the form of chocolate powder and was named “Choco-Milk”. The Mexican people find it awkward to pronounce the letter “k” in the word “milk” and so they just don’t bother and “Choco-Milk” is pronounced “choko-MEEL” and is written everywhere except on the Choco-Milk package as “chocomíl”. An animated character named Pancho Pantera was created in the 1950's to promote nutritional needs and awareness and to advertise Choco Milk and over the years Pancho Pantera has evolved from a simple country boy in a straw hat to a sporty modern youth. Until fairly recently the only flavor of Choco-Milk was chocolate but in 1997 Proctor and Gamble sold Choco-Milk to Bristol-Myers Squibb where it became a product of their Mead Johnson Nutritionals division. In the year 2000 Meade Johnson began to expand the product line, first with Choco-Milk Fresa, and then a few years later with Chococanela, Chocobanana, and Choconapolitano. I haven’t seen these new flavors in our supermarket though. All we have is the original Choco-Milk. Maybe the new flavors are just a big city phenomenon.

Before Choco-Milk Strawberry, Cinnamon, Banana, and Neopolitan “supposedly” came along if you wanted anything besides chocolate you had to invent it yourself like we still do here in Irapuato. People make milkshakes with milk and fruit and powdered milk (to make it thicker), sugar, and sometimes malted milk powder and because they are adding some sort of powder to milk they just called it a “chocomíl”. Some Mexican people refer to a chocomíl as a “licuado” (lee-KWAD-oh) and others as an “ezquímo” (ez-KEY-moh) but the basics are the same. Chocomiles (choko-MEE-les) were and still are very popular. My wife Gina tells me that years ago people would buy a chocomíl for lunch because it was a cheap way to get full especially if you could get the vendor to throw in some oats or other granola type grains. It reminds me of the famous “dime” lunch of an RC Cola and a Moon Pie made famous in the American South.

I have some favorite ways to make a chocomíl. First of all, my mother-in-law, “Carmelita”, makes fantastic chocomil using Choco-Milk powder and bananas. Here is the recipe:

In a blender you put three ice cubes and one cup of very cold milk, the colder the better. Then you put in two eggs, one banana, two tablespoons of Choco-Milk powder and one teaspoon of sugar. Then you put the blender on “high” and let ‘er rip until it gets good and frothy. The secret to frothy is very cold milk, and ice. Mmmm…good!

If you don’t have Choco-Milk powder or you don’t have it in the flavor that you want you can repeat the above recipe with any kind of fruit and substitute the powdered milk or malted milk powder for the Choco-Milk. This is generally what they do at my neighborhood “chocomilería” or “chocomíl shop except they generally don’t add eggs unless you ask for it. You have to be very careful with raw eggs.

I frequent two chocomilerías here in Irapuato. The first is called Frutas La Brisa and it is located on Avenida Guerrero #557. Some people refer to it as "el ultramarino". The word "ultramarino" means "overseas" or "imported" but it is also an old Spanish word for grocery shop. The fruit that is sold by Frutas La Brisa is the very best. The shop has been around for many years. It dates back to at least the early sixties and it is a favorite with the people of Irapuato because it stays open most of the night. In that way policemen and taxi drivers, etcetera, can grab something to eat and people coming home from a night on the town can start working on curing their coming hangover by drinking some fruit juice. Fruta La Brisa is near the "peluquería" or "barber shop" where I go to get my haircut and so I always treat myself to a chocomíl de fresa after my barber Pépe cuts my hair. When they make the chocomíl and pour it into a tall foam cup they sprinkle lots of cinnamon on top. That first taste of strawberry and cinnamon is to die for. If you don't want to take my word for it then you should go and try it for yourself. The second place is called "La Cascada" and it is located on Avenida de Trabajo #1190. Gina has a friend named María Isabel Hernández who works there and it is located in a market where Gina does some of our grocery shopping. Gina prefers the chocomiles made by her friend María Isabel which are very good but I prefer the chocomiles made by Fruta La Brisa and I don't know why either. It must be a Venus/Mars thing.

Before I go I want to mention another chocolate powder item that was very popular with Mexican school children but seems to be fading away. It is called Choco Piquín and it comes in little envelopes. You are supposed to empty the chocolate from the envelope directly into your mouth but the children lick their index finger and then stick it into the envelope and then lick the chocolate off of their finger. This reminds me of a product that we had in the United States in the 1950's called "Lik-M-Aid". It was a very tart, fruit flavored powder that came in little envelopes and we would lick the powder off of our fingers just like the Mexican children do. Like Choco Piquín, Lik-M-Aid is still around but now it is called "Fun Dip" and comes with little sticks so that hopefully you won't lick your fingers. Hmmm, I wonder if anyone ever died from licking their fingers. I think that if it is such a bad thing a lot of us would have been dead long ago. Oh, well, like they say here "Disfruta la Vida"...Enjoy Life!


GlorV1 said...

My dad Joe used to make us kids what was called "Ponchi." Just eggs and milk and cinnamon and let the hand mixer rip. We all sat at the table usually on Sundays and there was 6 of us and dad would bring out the eggs, milk, cinnamon and perform for us. He was a great man and this was a treat for us since times were hard, and lucky for us we had our own chickens who gave us eggs. Wonderful post and very informative. As you can see I have been backtracking on your blog so if you see a comment from me from time to time you know why. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Oh Man!! Chocomil takes me back to my childhood when my dad used to make this for us for breakfast (in English we call it Breakfast Shake). Bananas, a couple ice cubes, eggs, milk, Choco Milk and Cinnamon all blended until frothy. Pour in a LARGE cup and chug it 'til its gone. I love love love Chocomil. Thank you for the memory!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.