Before I go food hunting — in Corona, or Midwood, or Union City, or perhaps even the East Village — I try to map out a few places to refuel. Most of my exploring is done on foot, so the fuel is for me, and when the weather gets brisk, often it's a timely hot drink that tides me over.
Since I'm always on the lookout for something new, I've found that coffee, tea, and hot chocolate can get pretty tired. Fortunately, my peregrinations have brought me within sight (and smell) of cold-weather beverages that hail from around the world, including a few places you might not imagine. (Indonesia and the Dominican Republic were the biggest surprises for me.) All of these drinks are available in (or very near) New York; follow the links to the original posts for photos, locations, and more information. You'll also find a comprehensive list of locations at the end of this post.
Sarabba (sah-Rah-bah) is an Indonesian ginger punch prepared with palm sugar and coconut milk. The scent of ginger is very pointed, palm sugar and coconut milk round off the flavor but jazz up the nervous system. According to the owner of the Pinisi Café & Bakery (also a former owner and the baker for Borobudur, previously at that location), on the island of Sulawesi it's the traditional drink of watchmen and other late-night workers during cool evenings; in the East Village it's served all day, supplies of palm sugar permitting.
Salabat (sah-Lah-bot), a Filipino ginger punch that's almost certainly related, seems to be available in New York only as a mix that can be prepared at home. It's carried by Apholo Shippers and many other proprietors.
Cocido con leche is a Paraguayan variation of the herbal infusion called yerba mate. At Tipico BK in Williamsburg, the herb is briefly cooked ("cocido") on a stovetop with water and sugar and stirred into a paste; when the sugar caramelizes, the mixture is frothed with milk ("con leche"). The flavor is considerably rounder, and certainly less grassy or vegetal, than yerba mate taken straight. I've also spotted it on the menu at La Uruguaya y Paraguayita Bakery but haven't sampled it there.
Tipico BK also prepares the submarino, a hot-chocolate variant that immerses chunks of chocolate in hot milk; in Soho, "chocolate sinkers" are employed to the same effect at Divalicious Chocolate. By whatever name, I haven't tried it yet.
Güllüoglu, on Coney Island Ave., is perhaps the only place in town that serves sahlep. It's is prepared from the ground tubers of a mountain orchid, heated with milk (and sugar, I believe), then garnished with mellow Turkish cinnamon; it's creamy, and clings slightly to the inside of the cup. Sahlep is a folk remedy for sore throats; the appearance of the tubers has also given sahlep a reputation as an aphrodisiac.
A Turkish drink called boza, prepared with chickpeas, cinnamon, and sugar, is not served even at Güllüoglu, but a regular customer pointed me to a pair of markets on Ocean Ave. at Ave. W. I've yet to have a look.
Morocho is an Ecuadorian drink, served with a spoon, that blends white corn with milk and cinnamon and that carries a payload of raisins and whole kernels at the bottom of the cup. According to the owner of the Union City's Ecua Café, in her home country morocho often serves as a quick, portable breakfast. I also like the version at Café con Leche in Corona.
Quaker (Quack-air) and avena con naranjilla (ah-Vay-nah con nah-ran-Hee-ya) are other Ecuadorian "instant breakfasts" in which oatmeal is smoothly blended with fruit juice (no spoon required). Often they're served cold but will be heated on request. This is the case at Restaurante Ecuatoriano Genesis in upper Manhattan (for Quaker, which combines oatmeal and orange juice) and at La Favorita Deli Grocery in Corona (for avena con naranjilla, which employs a green-pulped fruit also known as lulo).
Habichuelas con dulce ("beans with sweets") is prepared at Christmas and Easter for family gatherings in the Dominican Republic, though at street carts like the one operated by Nena la Rubia in Washington Heights, the ladling begins as soon as the weather turns brisk. It's a thick beverage that typically combines sweet creamed beans, cinnamon, and coconut milk; milk crackers are floated on top, while red kidney beans and chunks of Caribbean sweet potato are retrieved with your spoon. Also available from many other itinerant vendors in the neighborhood.
Bocha, the infamous Tibetan butter salt tea, is more about sustenance than refreshment. It tastes most strongly of butter, then salt, and lastly tea. With a meal at Om Tibet in Woodside, as in the Himalayas, it serves chiefly to supply calories burned off fighting the cold. Bocha a standard offering at Tibetan restaurants across the city, but alone among these beverages, it's never available to go.
"Atole" (ah-Toll-ay) describes a number of Latin American cornmeal-based drinks of various consistencies. Atole de chocolate, or champurrado, is the best-known; it resembles a thin hot chocolate with starchy undertones (and tastes much better than that sounds). In Mexico, and in front of that country's midtown consulate, champurrado is served from breakfast time onward, typically paired with tamales. At a bakery like Mi Mexico Lindo in East Harlem, champurrado is more often paired with a pastry or two from the self-service racks. Widely available.
A variation called atole de elote is prepared on weekends at Guatemala Bakery in Union City. Back home, this, too, would be served all day, often with tamales; it combines yellow corn and milk sweetened with sugar and cinnamon and garnished with whole kernels. Atole de elote, as well as atole de platano, are on the menu at Luna de Xelajú, a Guatemalan restaurant and pizzeria in Jamaica; I haven't tried them. No sign of shuco, a blue corn atole, at any of the Salvadoran restaurants I've visited.
Arroz con leche ("rice with milk") might be served as a chilled pudding, but in Mexico, and at eateries like La Guera in Sunset Park, it's not uncommon for the cooked rice to be thinned with milk, sweetened with sugar and cinnamon, and offered as a hot beverage. Again, it's often paired with tamales, at any time of day. Widely available.
Apple cider is all over, too (the unfermented, nonalcoholic version, that is). Migliorelli Farm, a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket, is one of the few vendors that also offers a very sweet version pressed from bosc pears, freshened at the market with cloves and cinnamon. Try it soon before the pear supply is exhausted for the winter.
Bubble teas — available at cafés like Teariffic on Mott Street, throughout New York's several Chinatowns, and across Southeast Asia — are served hot as well as cold. To me, they've always seemed more of a marketing gimmick than anything else, and after sampling a hot peanut milk bubble tea, my opinion hasn't budged.
In China, hot soy milk might be even more common than bubble tea, but it's far less common in Manhattan; I've found it at XO Kitchen. For a flavor like thinned-down cough syrup, fruit preserves — say, red dates or citron — with honey and hot water are available at Egg Custard King Café. Coca-Cola with fresh-sliced ginger, which tastes just like it sounds, is on offer at Happy Time Café.
At various European-leaning cafés, I've tried steamed milk flavored with orzata, or almond syrup (Café La Fortuna) and accompanied by honey (The Hungarian Pastry Shop). These two may have been indifferent, but they suggest that there must be better versions out there.
I've found the mulled but not always alcoholic drink called glogg (in various spellings) at events like the Norwegian Seaman's Church Christmas Fair, but that comes 'round just once a year. And I'm still looking for sahlab, an Egyptian beverage perhaps related to sahlep; for Indian badam (almond) milk; and for Dutch anijsmelk (hot aniseed milk). If you've got a lead for me, add a comment below; you can also email me directly at DaveCook [at] EatingInTranslation.com. Thanks, and stay warm!
Drinks mentioned above can be found at these locations:
Pinisi Café & Bakery (sarabba)
128 East 4th St. (First-Second Aves.)
Apholo Shippers (salabat)
65-21 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens
Tipico BK (cocido con leche, submarino)
221 South 1st St. (near Roebling St.), Williamsburg, Brooklyn
La Uruguaya y Paraguayita Bakery (cocido con leche)
68-24 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens
Divalicious Chocolate (chocolate sinkers)
365 Broome St. (Mott-Elizabeth Sts.)
1985 Coney Island Ave. (Aves. O-P),
Ecua Café (morocho)
2904 Bergenline Ave., Union City, New Jersey
Café con Leche (morocho)
102-09 Roosevelt Ave., Corona, Queens
Restaurante Ecuatoriano Genesis (Quaker)
538 West 207th St. (near Sherman Ave.)
La Favorita Deli Grocery (avena con naranjilla)
32-22 103rd St. (near 32nd Ave.), Corona, Queens
Nena la Rubia (habichuelas con dulce)
Cart on St. Nicholas Ave. between 181st and 182nd Sts.
Late afternoon till about 9:00
Om Tibet (bocha)
40-05 73rd St., Woodside, Queens
(This venue is closed.)
Tamale vendor near the Mexican consulate (champurrado)
39th St. between Park and Madison Aves. (hours vary)
Mi Mexico Lindo (champurrado, arroz con leche)
2267 Second Ave. (116th-117th Sts.)
Guatemala Bakery (atole de elote)
2908 Bergenline Ave., Union City, New Jersey
(This venue is closed.)
Luna de Xelajú (atole de elote, atole de platano)
87-52 168th Street, Jamaica, Queens
(Now named Tierras Centro Americanas.)
La Guera (champurrado, arroz con leche)
46-03 Fifth Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Migliorelli Farm (pear cider, apple cider)
At the Union Square Greenmarket, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
Teariffic (bubble tea)
51 Mott St. (Pell-Bayard Sts.)
XO Kitchen (soy milk)
148 Hester St. (Elizabeth St.-Bowery)
Egg Custard King Café (fruit preserves with honey and hot water)
271 Grand St. (at Forsyth St.)
(one of two locations)
Happy Time Café (Coca-Cola with ginger)
51 Bayard St. (Elizabeth St.-Bowery)
Café La Fortuna (steamed milk with orzata)
69 West 71st St. (Columbus Ave.-Central Park West)
(This venue is closed.)
The Hungarian Pastry Shop (steamed milk with honey)
1030 Amsterdam Ave. (110th-111th Sts.)
Norwegian Seaman's Church Christmas Fair (glogg)
317 East 52nd St. (First-Second Aves.)