QUITO – The colada morada is an exquisite hot beverage – made of fruits and herbs from the Andean moorlands – which is served at this time of year with “guaguas de pan” (bread babies) in honor of the deceased, who on the Day of the Dead come to take their place at the tables of Ecuadorian families.
Of pre-Columbian origin, according to some historians, the purple colada morada, something like the Ecuadorian fruit salad known as the “come y bebe” (eat and drink it), and the doll-like bread babies stuffed with blackberries or chocolate, form part of the fusion of Catholicism with an Andean world view.
Only on these days, when the rainy season begins in the Ecuadorian Andes and the Catholic Day of the Dead is celebrated on Nov. 2, is this rich beverage prepared throughout Ecuador, parts of Peru and Bolivia, southern Colombia and northern Argentina.
On the first days of November, the streets of cities and villages are filled with the delicious aroma of boiling herbs being readied for the colada morada. In regions like Quito, tasting this delicacy is even turned into a contest.
For that reason the Quito municipality has established a number of food festivals on the Day of the Dead featuring the colada morada, which can also be savored in food markets all around the city.
Cecilia Loachamin, who sells food products at the Central Market in the La Marin district of downtown Quito, is one of the finalists in the municipal colada morada contest.
At her shop on the ground floor of the Central Market building, she offers the colada morada with a bread baby for $1.75, a modest price for which her customers are doubly grateful.
She said her “trick” for making one of the best beverages in the capital is that her colada contains every single ingredient the traditional recipe calls for.
For that reason she chooses fresh blackberries, guava, the naranjilla (little orange) and babaco tropical fruits, but she mostly chooses the best Andean blueberries, a very acidic fruit of the color characteristic of the drink.
Nonetheless, Cecilia told Efe that first she boils the Andean herbs, then adds spices like cloves, sweet peppers, cinnamon and the “ishpingo” evergreen tree bark, which adds a special aroma.
And “I sweeten it with pineapple,” said Cecilia, who has no doubt her recipe will be honored by the municipality as one of the best in Quito, since she learned it from her mother, who got it from her parents, so it has “almost a century of tradition” behind it.
Her colada morada, which she has been preparing at the Central Market for 30 years, has almost a century of tradition in her family, Cecilia said, modestly adding that the locals and many foreign tourists like her drink because of “how well it’s made.”
But if this is all about tradition, the “guagua” bread babies of Manuela Cobo also deserve to be on the podium, since she represents the third generation of a family specializing in making them. Her daughter, always by her side, represents a fourth generation of bakers.
She owns the traditional San Juan Bakery, famous for its quesadillas made with thin tortillas, which in this season are replaced by the bread babies.
They are made with very rich, fine dough,” which was formerly kneaded with pork fat, but now butter is used, she told Efe, while recalling that she learned all she knows about cooking when her grandmother was in charge.
Many foreigners come to her store in the crowded San Juan neighborhood, some attracted by the fame of her quesadillas and also by the bread babies.
Many indigenous communities also gather for their own funerary rites: they prepare a variety of dishes to offer their lost loved ones on their graves.
For that reason, entire families in the cemeteries crowd around the graves where they spread white blankets and set the table for the feast, with a special place for their departed ones to sit and enjoy the delicacies as they did during their lifetimes.
This custom does not end the tears and prayers, but it often wraps up with a pleasant communing with the dead, whom the living tend to ask for help and advice.