Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eats & Smiles: Mate

One of my favourite things in travel is the opportunity that it affords in exposing me to new and interesting food items or rituals.

Olive oil in Italy, herbs de provence in France, dulce de leche in Argentina... those tastes and smells can instantly transport you back to your memories of those places, reminding you of your adventures, and urging you to plan your next.

One such bit of food tourism of my latest adventure was my introduction to mate in Argentina.

As some cultures have a very devout coffee culture, Argentinians have a very devoted mate culture. Yerba mate is a tea, native to subtropical South America. In Argentina, the tea is traditionally prepared and consumed out of a hollowed out gourd and drank through a metal (typically) straw called a bombilla.

As I learned it (since there are as many variations on preparation and mate lore as there are dialects), mate is prepared by first adding the yerba mate to the mate (gourd) about two thirds full. You then cover the opening of the gourd with your palm, flipped over and shaken, then flipped back over and palm removed.

On your palm you will see a fine powdery residue. Blow to clear it from your palm and repeat the process twice more. This will ensure that this residue is not clouding your mate or clogging your bombilla. Your yerba should end up at an angle inside the gourd.

I find it easiest to set the straw into the mate when the yerba is dry, so in goes the bombilla... this is how I was shown. (But you can also insert the bombilla after the water is added.) With your thumb over the opening of the straw, you place the bombilla perpendicular to the slope of the yerba. The filter end of the bombilla will end up under the highest point of the yerba.

Fill the mate with cool water (into the lowest point of the yerba) and let it be absorbed by the yerba. Do not cover the yerba completely but rather leave that highest slope dry. Heat your water while the cool water is being absorbed. I was told that your water should be heated but stopped before it reaches boiling...

Then add your hot water, also into the lowest point of the yerba. If you are taking your mate sweet, then you add your sugar before adding the hot water. (Apparently you don't want to add sugar to your gourd... as it will damage the gourd. Use a wooden mate or the like if you are taking it sweet.) Resweetening and refilling as needed until the mate becomes lavado or washed of flavour (then new yerba needs to be added).

In a social setting, sharing mate would be a marker of friendship as all guests would share the same gourd and same bombilla. The shared mate is managed by the server, who will ensure that the quality is maintained throughout consumption by receiving the mate between each person, adding sugar or water as required before passing it to the next guest. The server will have the first few sips or turns from the mate before passing it. Again, just ensuring that the quality and flavour is correct before serving it to their guests. The mate passes clockwise but always returns to the server between guests and is passed by the server.

When you are done drinking mate and do not want any more, you say "thank you."

There is a great website called Circle of Drink that offers up rules and decorum tips in terms of sharing mate. The creators of this site offer up mate workshops (in Argentina), tips and tricks, and opinions on this popular beverage. They also have a great video (here) that shows how they believe mate should be prepared.

Poolside mate in Argentina.
In my wooden mate from our trip to Aconcagua.

Hot water dispensers at the gas stations in Argentina.
You'll find these more often than you'd find a soda machine.

I've enjoyed many a mate since returning from Argentina, whether there is truth to its health benefits or not, I enjoy the simple ritual of it. And can even restock on yerba at my fave Bridgeland Market.

2 thought(s):

Laura said...

like the new format

Anonymous said...

Uruguayos or (Uruguayans) also have the yerba mate, bombilla, and gourd tradition. It's super popular and enjoyed by every generation.

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails