Putting the fresh in liquid refreshment.
Aguas frescas (“fresh waters”) are beverages popular all over Mexico, Central America and the Southwestern U.S. The concept is very simple: fruit juice, water, sugar and some type of citrus, typically lime. As the name implies, the best ones are made from fresh ingredients, and you can find these thirst-quenchers in taquerías and mercados all over the 405, as well as at Central American restaurants.
More than a fruit drink, though, aguas frescas can also be made with nuts, seeds or flowers, so it’s best to just divide them into two categories — fruit and nonfruit. The latter includes regional favorites like Jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata (rice milk with cinnamon and vanilla). Unlike the fruit variety, horchata and Jamaica are usually premade and kept in dispensers in the beverage area of the restaurant.
As summer beverages go, aguas frescas are hard to beat, and in spite of the sugar, they’re a delicious punch of vitamins A and C. No, we’re not saying they’re “good for you,” but they’re not solely empty calories like soda or snow cones either. In fact, some stands will blend the fruits (and occasionally vegetables) with leaves and stems for additional nutrients, but that’s not really the point. The point is the heat-beating, refreshing, childhood-in-a-taste quality of these beverages.
In mercados such as Tienda Guatemala and Morelos, you’ll find a counter dedicated to aguas frescas, and the fresh fruit is displayed much like an ice cream joint or hot line. Choose among common flavors like pineapple, orange, strawberry and watermelon, or go bold with tart tamarind or cucumber-lime with jalapeño.
Regional variations are common, like the toasted rice in Salvadoran horchata, lime and chia seeds in Mexico City’s signature drinks or the watermelon and mint of Oaxaca. Basically, though, the drinks are made with whatever fruits (including chiles), nuts, seeds and edible flowers are available, and in OKC, that means tons of choices year-round.
Choosing a counter with fresh fruit avoids another issue in mass production: artificial flavors and sweeteners in poor copies of the fresh beverages. Minute Maid and other large companies have gotten into the aguas frescas game, but as with anything traditional to a country or region, you’re going to get better results by shopping local and patronizing operations where the proprietors are making their native food and drink.
Around the metro, you can find delicious aguas frescas at any Supermercado Morelos, Tienda Guatemala, La Fuente de Michoacán, Refresqueria las Delicias, and Neveria La Azteca.