Monday, 18 April 2011

Presépio goes Argie in a sip!

(si prefieres leer este post en español, por favor sigue este enlace)

A few days ago my friend Sandra (author of the blog, "Presépio com Vista para o Canal") came to Zwolle for a visit. The plan was to have a lazy lunch and walk around town a little. Since we were having a spell of nice weather with lots of sun and clear sky, I thought it would be a good idea to sit somewhere nice near the water in the city centre and have a bit of a picnic.

Sandra is always very receptive and enthusiastic about discovering traditions and habits from other parts of the world, so I came up with a little surprise for her. Before leaving the house, I boiled some water and poured it into a thermos flask I brought from Argentina. What surprise did I have in mind? Well, pouring Sandra some mates, of course!
Pouring "mates" for friends.
Mate (pronounced MAH-teh, stressing the first syllable, not the last as I see it written everywhere)  is Argentina's national drink, but it is not just any drink, something you pour when you are thirsty and then forget about. Mate is for an Argentine his or her best friend when he or she is at home alone studying, working or relaxing. Preparing the mate, pouring it, holding the gourd in your hand, sipping it slowly - the whole ritual is comforting and it gives an immediate sense of well being that, originating in your brain, spreads then through your body.
My collection of mate gourds from Argentina.
But mate is the drink you serve when you are entertaining at home, always the first thing you offer and is accepted by your guests. Also, if you are off to spend the day at the beach or by the pool, the mate gear is the first thing that you want to pack and God may help you if, upon arriving at your destination, you discover you have forgotten to take it with you! You will be despised and blamed by your companions relentlessly - for about five whole minutes!

Because mate is such an important part of our everyday lives back in Argentina, I thought that Sandra would be interested in tasting it and hearing all about it. In order to  prepare and pour this infusion you need a bit of equipment: the thermos flask for the hot water, the yerba mate or dry leaves to be brewed, some sugar, the gourd to pour it in (also called mate) and the metal filter straw. You can also add other herbs to the mate or even orange or lemon peel to give it a citrus flavour.
The raw gourds waiting to be carved and polished to be used to pour mates.
The metal straws wih filters, used to sip the mates from the gourd.
Once I had collected and prepared all these elements, I had to put them somewhere to transport them safely. And that is when my mysterious magic leather case came  in handy. In Argentina you can find special cases made for the sole purpose of carrying the mate implements, and last year during my holiday in Argentina, I bought a very nice one made from carpincho or capibara skin.

My carpincho leather case to transport the mate equipment. Photo by Sandra.
When Sandra saw my fancy case, she immediately got curious but I was determined not to give away what was in it until the moment was right. After lunch in "La Meridiana", an Italian restaurant on the Melkmarkt, opposite the Grote Kerk (Big Church), we took a walk around and I took her to see the Zwolse Balletjeshuis, where they sell these special, old fashioned sweets typical of Zwolle. Unfortunately it was closed, but we managed to find some balletjes at the Tourist Information Office or VVV right next to the Grote Kerk.
Finally, the moment to open the mysterious leather case arrived. We sat by the canal, I opened the case, took the thermos out -nothing odd there, maybe it was coffee? tea? spirits?- and then out came the tumbler containing the dried leaves of yerba mate and I started preparing the drink. First I took the gourd, filled 3/4 of it with the yerba, then shook it a bit to make the loose powder to go to the surface and avoid them from going through the sieve and drinking them. Then I placed the metal filter straw to one side and I also added a pinch of peppermint leaves to give it more taste. Instead of sugar I normally use sweetener so I added some of that and then poured the hot water. The first mate is always for the cebador (the person pouring it) to make sure it is prepared correctly, so I had the first one and I made sure it was ok. Then, I poured again and passed it to Sandra. What did Sandra think of it?

Well, I am sure that it tasted quite strange to her, probably! Drinking mate is an acquired taste and the first few sips or the first few rounds of mate will definitely taste a bit too strong and probably bitter, We, Argentines, drink it normally from an early age and some of us don't even get to really like it, but because it is usually done socially, we always join in the mate circles while spending time with friends or family.
Rosario, a friend's daughter, is not yet 3 years old and she already drinks mates as an expert!
I can go on and on talking about mate drinking since the ritual has its own etiquette and the manner of preparing and pouring it varies from region to region. It also has a number of health benefits, since it is an excellent anti-oxidant, protects the inmune system and is an energy booster.

I am not sure what Sandra thought of those first sips of mate, but I do know that she was rather impressed with the ritual and the health benefits that yerba mate offers. So, guess what I am giving her for her birthday?

Packets of different types of yerba mate.

Thank you, Sandra, for posting this article about mate and your visit in your blog and for letting me use your photo of the "magic case"!


Anonymous said...

How fascinating! I've certainly heard of mate, but never actually knew how it was prepared or really what was in it! That's a beautiful case you found to carry the necessary materials!

Presépio no Canal said...

Hallo, Eber! :-)
Thank you too for a wonderful afternoon and this gezellig surprise! :-)
And specially to accept my invitation to write about it and share a bit of the Argentina's culture with Presepio's readers. :-)
I wish you a very good week! It's sunny there too?
Besos!! :-)

Aledys Ver said...

It can also be brewed and drunk as normal tea. Actually, there's a shop there in Utrecht where they sell the "yerba" and the gourd to pour mates... I think it's a delicatessen shop where they sell mostly Italian goodies...

THanks, Sadrinha!
It's lovely here, I don't recognise this place anymore! :D

Anonymous said...

You know I prefer coffee, but the blog is great- and you look very professional sebando mates! ME

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I know!! But coffee is too generic, mate is typically ours! :D Besos.

BLOGitse said...

wow, never heard of mate before. It's great to have traditions, rituals...

We start renovation soon. Our home will be in total chaos for one month. So many walls and roofs to paint. I might post some pics of that project...(if I have time) :)

VagaMundos said...

Wow! You have a really big collection of mate gourds. We have only one. Souvenir from Argentina :)

Esteban y Lia said...

Que rico los mates!!! Y sobre todo poder disfrutarlos con los amigos. Sin duda es nuestra identidad en cualquier parte del mundo, gracias por representarnos allá también Aledys!!!


Aledys Ver said...

GOod luck with the renovations! Enjoy, at least it's the best time of the year to do this kind of job!

Aledys Ver said...

Have you ever had "mates"? :D

Aledys Ver said...

@Esteban y Lía,
Sí, el mate nos acompaña en todo momento, no es verdad?

Ana O'Reilly said...

Yo, aunque no tomo mate, tengo varios de adorno :)

VagaMundos said...

Yes, while we were in Buenos Aires, but in Peru and Chile too :) Our first experience was in Cusco, as soon as we landed: mate de coca. It really helped with the altitude sickness :)

Aledys Ver said...

Yo no tomaba, salvo cuando estaba en alguna reunión que aceptaba alguno como para despreciar jeje Pero acá en Holanda, será que me siento más cerca de Argentina tomando mate, no sé, pero ahora tomo todos los días!

Aledys Ver said...

I've never tried "mate de coca" or even chewing coca leaves ... it surely helps with altitude sickness! said...

What a wonderful description of this ritual! I tried yerba mate once while in Argentina, and found it a little bitter as you described. But I could sense from the care taken to prepare and serve it that it was culturally important. Thanks for explaining.

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, like I said, it is an acquired taste. But it is important to accept it when it's offered to you, it is a sign that the host or hostess is trying to make you welcome in their home.