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Cool Off with Colombian Treats Like Agua de Panela and Cholados

By Smriti Rao | July 26, 2012 7:21am

JACKSON HEIGHTS — Can’t stand the heat?

Take a chill pill this summer and learn how to keep cool like Colombians with their refreshing range of tropical fruit juices and beverages and other icy treats.

With just two real seasons — summer, and a warm, rainy winter—the country sizzles throughout the year.

“We’re hot all the time,” said Carlos Trujillo, 33, the manager of the Colombian restaurant La Pequeña on 83rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue. “Except for Bogotá, which is cooler, the rest of the country is always hot.”

With average temperatures a balmy 80 to 85 degrees all year, Colombia produces a rich bounty of tropical fruit that is turned into juices.

“Everything can be made into juice…guavas, pineapple, passion fruit, mangoes, tamarindo…everything,” Trujilio said.

Colombians in Jackson Heights have found a way to make juices and icy treats that remind them of home and help them stay cool in the Big Apple.

Here are some of them:

Jugo de Lulo: One of the country's most popular drinks is Jugo de Lulo (Lulo Juice).

Known as naranjillas in other parts of South America, lulo are orange on the outside and green like a Kiwi on the inside, said Andrew Silverstein, who conducts food tours in Jackson Heights.

While lulo cannot be imported into America, the concentrate is readily available at Latin American specialty stores in Queens or supermarkets like Trade Fair on 75-07 37th Ave. 

The concentrate can either be mixed with cold water to create a refreshing drink that tastes like grapefruit juice, or made into a popsicle.

“It's very citrusy and fresh,” said businessman Gabriel Borja, 50. "I had it all the time when I was growing up." 

Lulo juice can be found at food carts on Roosevelt Avenue and at Colombian restaurants like La Pequeña in Jackson Heights.

Agua de Panela: Another favorite is aqua de panela, said Trujillo, a drink made from “Panela" — unrefined cane sugar.

Sold for less than $2 in Latin American specialty stores in Queens, Panela looks like a cake of brown sugar.

The juice is made by simply breaking off a chunk of Panela and dissolving it in water and adding a twist of lemon. The result is a drink that tastes like tangy iced tea.

“Agua de Panela is fresh…with lemon, it’s very tasty,” said Jackson Heights resident Bernardo Sandovar, who originally hails from Cali, Colombia. "But it's an acquired taste." 

Agua de Panela can be found at various food carts on Roosevelt Avenue and at Colombian restaurants like La Pequeña.

Raspados and Cholados: No summer would be complete without icy Raspados and Cholados, said Cristina Castillo, 34, the manager of the Colombian bakery La Abundancia on 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

Raspados are snow cones made with shaved ice and flavored with fruit concentrate, she explained.

“I love Raspados,” Castillo gushed. “In the summer, it’s so nice to have raspado ice with juice on top.”

It’s easy to find the icy treats on Roosevelt Avenue as well as bakeries like Las Americas on 82nd Street and Roosevelt.

Cholados, available at several mom and pop stores on Roosevelt Avenue, start with a bed of shaved ice that is doused in fruit syrup such as passion fruit (maracuya), blackberry or strawberry.

Fresh fruit like mangoes, cantaloupe and fresh strawberries are then spooned generously into the cup. Another spritz of fruit syrup and a generous soaking of the fruits in condensed milk finishes off this delicious summer chiller and any attempt to diet.

“Cholados! [They're] so refreshing and sweet,” said waitress Wendy Osario, 27.

Fruit sodas: Looking for a quick, cool drink? Give Colombian brand sodas like Postobón and Colombiana Cola a shot.

“People come to eat at the bakery and they always get a Postobon soda,” said Cristina Castillo, one of the managers at La Abundancia bakery on 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

With popular flavors like apple, passion fruit and orange, the bakery said it sold hundreds of cans of the Postobón and Columbiana brand sodas each week.

"I love Columbiana soda," said 42-year old Jackson Heights resident Mario Ocampo as he took a swig of the gassy drink with his midday empanada snack at La Abundancia bakery. "It's like us Colombians...very sweet."