Learning to Love Chicha
A slightly-alcoholic drink made from fermented corn, chicha is a sickly-yellow beverage hugely popular in Bolivia, especially in and around Cochabamba. It’s always homemade, prepared in huge earthenware vats, where the corn mixture is left to ferment for several days.
Places which sell chicha can be identified by a flag hung outside the door. A white flag means normal chicha, while a red flag indicates that it was made from purple maize. Chicherías are like beer halls; raucous places which can be found in every town throughout the highlands. Despite their ubiquity, they can be difficult to track down. The one we visited in Sucre had no sign or identifying marker outside the door. You have to be in-the-know.
Chicha can wreak havoc on the stomachs of unprepared foreigners. The stuff isn’t made or served in the most sanitary of conditions and, at least for me, a day of drinking chicha means the next will be spent on the toilet. But it’s a social drink, and you should never refuse when the bowl is passed your way. After splashing a bit on the ground to honor Pachamama, you drink the entire contents of the bowl, not just a sip. It’s sweet and yeasty, a bit like unfinished beer.
We had more than our fair share of the stuff, particularly at the party in Independencia. And while we were in Tarata we had a chance to sample garapiña, which is chicha infused with cinnamon ice cream. With a more agreeable reddish color and sweeter flavor, garapiña is much easier to swallow down.
It’s not by any means our favorite drink, but sampling Chicha is a quintessential Bolivian experience which can’t be skipped.