Atol de elote is a sweet, creamy drink that can warm the chilliest hands in the Central American highlands. Like a cross between horchata and corn chowder, the beverage is often so thick that people eat it with a spoon.
In Guatemala, vendors create atol’s silky, rich texture by pulverizing corn against a grinding stone. After mixing in milk, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon and vanilla, they heat the concoction in a giant pot. A piping hot ladle of the stuff sells for about a quarter in the market.
Despite the lineup of obvious, tasty flavors, Mayan folklore claims that making a scrumptious batch depends on more than the ingredients. Some superstitions: If more than one person stirs the pot, it will taste bad. If a pregnant woman enters the room while a batch made from young corn is cooking, the drink will curdle. And if anyone in a bad mood touches it, the drink becomes bitter.
Ancient Mayans believed corn was sacred, and their descendants revisit this reverence through ceremonies and festivals celebrating the staple crop. Central Americans enjoy cups of atol alongside tamales de elote because when it comes to corn, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Unless, of course, the wrong person touches the stirring spoon. Then, it’s a very bad thing.