Mate Cocido on an open flame



“Yerba—ka’a, asuka, carbón,” explains Hermelinda, one of my Guaraní instructors. She shifts between Spanish and Guaraní as she gives me the recipe, “y se quema… jehapy.” The neighbor who lives down the hill next to her chicken coop was preparing a pot and because Herme knows that I’ve got a dual fascination with food and drink, she called me to watch. The smoky combination smells earthy and seductive and compares to the feeble stuff you can get in tea bags the same way musk compares to a thin floral perfume. Ka’a was the first Guaraní word I knew—hierba, plant/a, herb, and in this context, The Plant, The Herb… Yerba. When you add spoonfuls of asuka… azucar (in Guaraní, the last syllable is stressed unless otherwise noted and so the word for sugar is a loan from Spanish) and charred wood chips for fuel, the sugar caramelizes even before the ka’a burns. The liquid is then poured into cups like tea (no bombilla, as a good friend inquired).
What never crossed my mind was that this was an extravagant beverage. Coffee is much cheaper, Herme clarified, because all it takes is water and the omnipresent cheap instant crystals. Mate Cocido requires sugar and fuel as well as the yerba.
By the way, the anglicized spelling is maté but it’s quite misleading because it makes you think that the accent is on the second syllable. In Spanish, the penultimate syllable is stressed and every syllable pronounced. The é is there to let English speakers know that you’re supposed to pronounce both syllables so that it doesn’t sound like, well, like “mate.”

Posted in , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.


Swedish Greys - a WordPress theme from Nordic Themepark. Converted by