By Adriana Machado
It’s a fact: humans eat with their eyes first. Hence the ever-so-popular #foodie posts that have made Instagram’s popularity skyrocket over the past two years. Now that we’re in the thick of the holiday season, many people have come across at least one post related to “coquito” while scrolling through their news feed. You may ask yourself, “Co-what? What’s that?” The best way to describe it is as a Puerto Rican eggnog. However, there is so much more to coquito than the overly sweet, mass-produced drink that’s commonly found in American supermarkets.
The origin of eggnog is believed to have taken place in England during medieval times and traditionally consisted of cream, sugar, spice, liquor and, you guessed it, eggs. Eventually this recipe spread all over Europe and made its way to the colonies in the new world. Because of its vast popularity and versatility, countless variations have been created over centuries of families passing down their precious recipes.
Now, fast forward to the present and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different formulas with essentially the same eggnog base. Every family from different Latin American countries have their own special recipe, which are guarded very much like the family jewels. Many hispanic traditionalists will discuss long, hard and probably quite loudly about what makes a true coquito. While some recipes call for an average of about six to 10 raw egg yolks, others require cooking the yolks in cream to make a custard. Some even have no eggs at all. They do, however, all contain coconut milk, which gives it the creaminess that sets the right holiday mood. Despite the fuss, having so many variations of a single drink simply attests to its growing popularity in both Latin and American cultures. It’s amazing how a simple drink can bring so many people together and gets conversations started.
Growing up in a Hispanic household, rompope (aka ponche de leche in Ecuador) was our staple holiday “eggnog” drink. Based on the Spanish “ponche de huevos,” or egg punch, it is made with an egg custard base, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and Aguardiente, which is a type of sugar cane liquor, similar to rum, that is the main domestic alcohol in Ecuador.
Unlike most kids who are anxious about opening the mountain of presents packed under the tree, I was the rare kind that enjoyed helping out in the kitchen and learning about the work that goes into making our family’s traditional Christmas feasts. Every year I watched in fascination as my mother and grandmother transformed their kitchens into makeshift food factories equipped with pots and pans in every shape, size and color. They worked in assembly lines ready to pump out massive amounts of succulent and deliciously fattening Ecuadorian dishes that would feed our entire neighborhood for about a week.
Rompope duty, however, was left to Belito, my grandfather. He perfected his mother’s recipe over years of trial and error. I remember trying it for the first time at a very young age and vaguely recall instantly falling in love with the silky vanilla flavor and creamy texture that can only be described as heavenly. As years passed, he stopped making it and my family resorted to purchasing it — at first from the supermarket and then eventually found a family friend who made coquito. When I first tried coquito I was hit with nostalgia. It wasn’t exactly like my grandfather’s, but it was close. It sent me back in time to a place where I was helping stir a giant pot of rompope with Belito by my side. It was a special and emotional connection that I made with coquito. Apart from enticing your taste buds, food and drink must also evoke an emotion. It should pull at every heart string and bringing you back to the happy times in your life.
Being so heavily moved by this drink, I decided to conquer the task of replicating my grandfather’s recipe while adding a few touches of my own along the way. After a few tries I concocted a hybrid of my two favorite eggnog varieties. I called it romquito, since it merges Ecuadorian rompope and Puerto Rican coquito. The best thing about this recipe is that you can switch it up with other flavors, such as lime zest, coffee and even chocolate, to create an entirely different flavor profile. I highly encourage you to experiment and have fun with it and to create your own special holiday traditions.
Below is my original romquito recipe, and an easier, eggless version of the traditional coquito.
View more from Adriana on her blog, Cholita Design.