Sometimes, when you have a friend who is traveling abroad, and you think he or she may be inclined to bring back a souvenir for you, you have to ask him or her for exactly what you want.
If your friend is going to Antarctica, for example, and you really want a snow globe with a penguin inside it, you must be very specific in your request. You should say, “Friend, when you go to that cold place, and you are thinking of buying something for me, can you get me a snow globe with a penguin inside? And if they don’t have penguin snow globes in Antarctica, can you buy me a candle made from the fat of a seal?” Because unless you ask, chances are your friend is probably not going to buy you a penguin snow globe or a seal fat candle from anywhere unless he or she is prompted to do so.
I personally know that this straightforward strategy works. I know because I used it on a friend who recently traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico. I said to my friend, “Friend, when you go to that hot place, can you bring back some Mexican chocolate for me, you know, the kind with the spices in it?” And she said, “Kickass!”
Bars of Mexican chocolate are unlike bars of American chocolate. In pre-Columbian times, Mayans and Aztecs would roast beans from the native cacao tree and then add spices and water to create a foamy beverage called chocolatl. It is chocolatl that Montezuma (the last Aztec emperor) supposedly drank in goblets before visiting his ladies in the harem. I wonder if Montezuma’s lady friends in the harem ever got any chocolatl. I bet the ugly ones didn’t.
Did my friend bring me back spicy Mexican chocolate from Oaxaca? Yes! She did! And being the kickass friend that she is, she also brought back a round, wooden whisk called a molinillo, which you rub back and forth between your palms to create a beautiful froth. I love my present. I am so much luckier than Montezuma's ugly concubines.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
1. Get your hands on a bar of Mexican chocolate. My friend brought back “Chocolate Mayordomo de Oaxaco,” which is a chocolate bar with sugar, cinnamon, and almonds ground into it. If you don’t have Mexican chocolate, use semi-sweet chocolate with various enhancements such as cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, cayenne, or ground chiles peppers.
2. In a saucepan, heat the milk and the chocolate (and spices, if using). Stir with the molinillo (or whisk) until the chocolate has dissolved and the liquid is at a sipping temperature of your liking.