Walking through the market, the calls reverberate down Quito’s narrow colonial streets. “Guaguas de pan, guaguas de pan. Three for one dollar!”
And from many cafés, many restaurants, the offering rings out. “Colada morada! Rica colada morada!”
Colada morada – a rich infusion of fruits, herbs and spices – and guaguas de pan – doll-shaped breads – are the traditional offerings Ecuadorians leave on their families’ tombs during the Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos) celebrations.
One year, when I was traveling from Peru to Ecuador, it happened to be during the Día de los Difuntos holidays. I spent the day in Loja, awaiting a night bus to Quito. Under the arcades surrounding the main plaza, dozens of women had stalls set up, selling guagua de pan with a steaming cup of colada morada.
Since mid-October, restaurants and families have been preparing this laborious drink that is served to honor the dead. Prices for the main ingredients – fruits of every color of the rainbow, bunches of herbs – have crept upward, whether they are sold on the street, in the local market or the mega supermarkets. The price for a babaco doubles or triples in price, from $1 – $1.50 to $3.
One Sunday, a friend stops at a stand in Mercado América to buy some naranjillas. The woman places three pieces of the fruit in a plastic bag. “That’s one dollar,” she tells me friend. “But your sign says five for a dollar.” “The prices have gone up….”
The list of ingredients is a mish-mash of native fruits, herbs and spices, and those introduced by the Spaniards:
- babaco (Vasconcellea × heilbornii)
- strawberries (frutilla)
- Andean blueberry (mortiño, Vaccinium meridionale)
- blackberry (mora)
- naranjilla (Solanum quitoense)
- pineapple (piña)
- orange leaf (hoja de naranja)
- lemon verbena (cedrón, Aloysia citrodora)
- lemon grass (hierba luisa, Cymbopogon citratus)
- amaranth flower (ataco, Amaranthus hipochondriacus)
- myrtle (arrayán, Myrtus communis)
The herbs are sold in a bundle called guanguito.
and spices :
- cinnamon flower (ishpingo)
- cinnamon sticks (canela)
- allspice (pimienta dulce)
- cloves (clavo de olor)
Every family has its recipe for colada morada. Some omit the mortiño. Some use corn starch (maicena) to thicken the drink, others use the more traditional black corn flour (harina de maíz negro). To sweeten the pot, raw sugar (panela) or granulated sugar – or both – is used.
One morning, doña Marcela’s invites me into her kitchen where she and her maid, Rosalía, are preparing the recipe handed down by Marcela’s abuelita (grandmother). Already the pots are steaming. On one burner, the babaco is simmering; on another, the pineapple; and on a third, the strawberries. Each have a sprig of cinnamon and a few cloves floating amongst the hunks of fruit.
On the fourth burner is a larger pot full of water, herbs and spices. With a large wooden spoon, doña Rosalía lifts each herb out of the simmering tisane, to teach me the names: ishpingo and pimienta dulce. arrayán, ataco.
On the sideboard, the naranjilla and blackberries, which have been cooked together, are cooling. In Marcela’s family recipe, mortiño is omitted.
Once the naranjilla-blackberry mixture is cooked and cooled, it is run through a blender and then a sieve. The juice is placed in a 20-liter pot and the herb water is added. The pot is put back on the heat. Panela and maicena are added. Once the mixture begins to thicken, the other fruits are added.
This rich drink is then served hot or cold.
One Día de los Difuntos, doña Magdalena invites me to join her family for lunch – and colada morada.
As she ladles the royal-purple drink from a 60-liter pot into a container for me to take home, I ask her about her recipe.
“Doña, what do you use to thicken it? Maicena or …”
“No, harina, harina de maíz negro. The only proper thing to use!”
“And, of course, your recipe is very traditional and you use mortiño.”
“Of course,” she says as she wipes the container before putting the lid on. “Mortiño, babaco, piña …” She recites the list of fruits, both from these Andean mountains and those brought by the Spaniards from strange lands over the eastern sea.
History of Colada Morada
When I told a friend that I was writing this article, she asked, “Will you be telling us the origin of the word?”
I shall do more than that … I shall look for the origins of the drink …..
The term for this drink, colada morada, is obviously Spanish: colada, strained + morada, purple. It is a purple-colored refreshment that is strained or sieved.
But what was the original name of colada morada – and what is its origin?
We shall turn to Carlos Gallardo, dean of the Gastronomy School at the Universidad de los Andes in Quito and author of Mortiño: la Perla de los Andes. According to his research, colada morada’s roots extend almost five thousand years in the past, to the Quitu-Cara and older indigenous nations.
Once the corn harvest was in and winter rains came, we entered the time called Aya Marcay Quilla (October – November). The corpses were exhumed to spend time with the living, taking walks and sharing communal meals. Part of this feasting included a special drink in their honor: Yana Api, first made with corn and llama and later of fermented corn.
When the Spaniards arrived, the conquistadores prohibited the removal of bodies from tombs. The indigenous then created pan de finados, a mummy-shaped bread made of corn and winter squash (zapallo) to represent the dearly departed. This bread later came to be called guagua de pan (bread baby).
Of the 17 ingredients used to make colada morada, two have spiritual significance: the black corn, for in the Andean cosmovision, humans were made from maize; and the mortiño, as this fruit was considered sacred by Andean cultures.
Gracias a doña Marce y doña Rosalía por enseñarme la preparación de la colada morada, y a doña Magdalena y su familia por invitarme a su mesa para probar su receta.