Such a declaration of place!
Whenever I ask, “Do you know Aguas Casilda,” everyone says, “Ohhh, Aguas Casilda, muy riquissimas!” I doubt Casilda is still there, as she would have to be 97 years old, but regardless, her stall is situated just a few stalls down from the nieve place I also love in Mercado Juarez, making that spot a place of difficult decisions. Even those who are squeamish about street food exclaim, “Y ella es muy limpia,” because the stall uses purified water. When King Juan Carlos of Spain and unspecified presidents of Mexico, governors, actors, actresses, and singers have come to pay homage to Casilda, who established her stall in 1926, who are you to be afraid of diarrhea?
I know all this about Casilda because the laminated menu has a history on the back. If my reading is correct, Casilda was practically a saint, as she is described giving horchata to thirsty, often penniless students, making her, “La Samaritana Oaxaquena.” I don’t think Americans have ever felt that strongly about a drink-maker. Even your biggest, die-hard Coca-Cola fan isn’t likely to want to confer sainthood on the inventor, whatshisname. Their pride in Casilda reminded me a bit of Korea, where the government catalogs every person with a traditional talent or craft, so that Mr. Kim the master of ceramics becomes “National Living Treasure #548.”
But of course, the most important object of pride is not Casilda’s history but her products, the aguas themselves. When I flipped over the laminated history, I could see clearly that pride of place had been given to one drink in particular: horchata con tuna y almendres.
Isn’t it beautiful? I’ve always liked horchata, ever since I tried it at my first taqueria with my first burrito in the Mission in San Francisco, but this version of Mexico’s famous drink made of rice tasted simpler and purer, and definitely less sugary. The tuna, which you remember is cactus fruit, made it rosier and fruitier, as did the chunks of cantaloupe floating in it. The small bits of nuts were definitely not almonds, but probably pecans or “nuez.” Maybe they ran out of almonds. No importa, I love pecans.
Sadly, it was over too quickly. I drained my glass in five minutes.