James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Chocolate, Garlic, and Booze Before Breakfast: The Secret to Longevity?

Chocolate, Garlic, and Booze Before Breakfast: The Secret to Longevity?

Quemadito in Viraco, Peru

“You woke up so late, where have you been?” 95-year-old Patricia Amésquita asks me as I stumble into her patio before sunrise. It’s 4:15 a.m. and the sun hasn’t come up yet.

The rest of the family has been awake for almost an hour, setting off fireworks and dancing to the music coming from a small brass band in the village’s central square.

It’s Oct. 1 in Viraco, a small village in the Peruvian province of Arequipa. October, the month of the village’s local saint, Santa Ursula, starts off early.

As I catch the last of the fireworks, Patricia offers me a shot of quemadito, a shot of pisco, chocolate, garlic, and various herbs, poured from a huge metal kettle wrapped in a t-shirt—a kind of makeshift thermos. It looks like hot chocolate, but burns a little as it goes down my throat and warms me up in the early morning cold.

Back at the house after the fireworks, I press Patricia for details on the quemadito. Quemadito translates to something like “burnt drink” in Spanish, but there is no actual burning involved in making it. After trying it, though, it occurred to me that the burning probably refers to how it feels on your throat on a chilly morning.

To make the drink, Patricia starts by melting 100 percent dark chocolate in a well-loved metal pot over the fire with “just a little water, not too much,” and the juice from one lime. When the chocolate is melted, she adds in garlic, rosemary, mint, hierbabuena, and a generous amount of sugar.

The final ingredient is pisco, which she boils just for a minute or two so that the alcohol doesn’t evaporate. Before pouring into a kettle to serve, Patricia strains out all the herbs, leaving a smooth, chocolatey liquid. It smells vaguely of lemon and garlic.

The quemadito isn’t just for special occasions. I stayed in Viraco for almost a week, and started every day with a few shots of this bracing chocolate drink.

As a child, Patricia used to make the trek to the family farm multiple times a week, walking hours through the mountains and valleys to harvest whatever vegetable was in season at the time.

“We usually didn’t have breakfast until after working in the field,” she tells me. With its burning flavor and chocolate energy boost, the quemadito powered her through the uphill trek and hard work.

The next day, my boyfriend—Patricia’s grandson—and I wake up early again for the long journey to that same farm. Before we leave on the six-hour trek, various aunts and uncles join us in passing around shots of quemadito. There’s nothing quite like starting a hike at 6 a.m. while slightly tipsy on chocolatey, herby pisco.

A lot of people say the mountain air and daily exercise is Patricia’s secret to living to 95. But I have to wonder if the pisco and chocolate before breakfast every morning has something to do with it.

Up Next

10 Things to Know Before You Go to Peru

Featured City Guides