When it’s winter in Miami, it’s time for churros and hot chocolate
MIAMI – Cold winter days in South Florida are rare and fleeting. But when temperatures dip below 60 degrees, one thing remains constant: long lines for freshly fried churros and thick hot chocolate.
There are dozens of restaurants in the Miami area that serve churros year-round, including some that focus solely on the treat, but winter is their biggest season.
Bundled up in fluffy jackets and furry boots, locals stand in long lines in the cold to get their hands on something warm, 21-year-old Arletty Hernandez said. from La Palma on Southwest Eighth Street.
In La Palma, which opened in 1979 and is owned by the family that runs the Versailles restaurant, hundreds of people line up in cold weather for the classic fried churros sprinkled with sugar, accompanied by dense hot chocolate with spanish. The colder it is, the more churros they sell. On a particularly busy night, staff can sell nearly 2,000, according to Nicole Valls, the owner’s granddaughter.
“When you move to Miami, in addition to learning about Versailles, you discover La Palma for the winter,” said Nicole Rosario, 48, who made the last-minute decision to pick up churros on Sunday after attended a nearby wedding.
Sara Manis, 63, braved queues for churros on Sunday, something she’s wanted to do since she first saw a story about it years ago in the local news. “It was the first time I tasted it like that,” she said of the treat.
La Palma isn’t the only place with crowds. At Morro Castle in Hialeah, another old-school spot serving churros year-round, people can wait up to 20 minutes to sit inside and buy churros for 20 cents apiece. The cafeteria-style restaurant, which opened in 1966, can sell up to 3,000 churros when temperatures drop, said Leo Villalobos, owner and nephew of the restaurant’s founder.
The recipe – just flour, oil, water and salt – came from Cuba, where Mr. Villalobos’ uncle ran a restaurant. A friend has built a treadle machine at Morro Castle to extrude the dough into its traditional fluted shape. The hot chocolate, also dense here, is made with two different milks, sugar, chocolate and cornstarch, the key to its thickness.
“It’s kind of like a tradition passed down,” Mr. Villalobos said of people reaching for the treat during the winter. “It’s something that’s been going on for generations and they brought you as a kid, and they bring their kids and grandkids.”
This Miami ritual has its roots in Spain, where the combination of churros and hot chocolate is usually served for breakfast, said Maria Paz Moreno, professor of Spanish at the University of Cincinnati and author of “Madrid: A culinary history. She traced the churro’s lineage back to a cookbook written in Arabic that dates back to the 13th century for a dough made from flour and water fried in oil, but it wasn’t yet called churro.
Another cookbook — which she considers the “Bible of Spanish cuisine” — dates from 1611 and was written by Francisco Martínez Motiño, who cooked for the king of Spain. He has a recipe for churros, which Martínez Motiño called “fruta de sartén,” or frying pan fruit, Dr. Moreno said.
The term churro wasn’t used until 1884, according to the Real Academia Española, an organization that preserves the Spanish language, said Sarah Portnoy, professor of Latinx food studies at the University of Southern California, Dornsife, and author of “Food, Health, and Culture in Latino Los Angeles.
The churro, Dr. Moreno said, comes from the sound the dough makes when it hits the hot oil.
As for dense hot chocolate, the Spaniards borrowed it from the Aztecs of Mexico. The Aztec version was a thick, cocoa-based drink that was bitter, thickened with corn and spiced with chili peppers, Dr. Moreno said. The Spaniards made it pleasing to their taste buds by adding sugar and vanilla.
Like many Spanish-influenced Latin American dishes, churros have been adapted in many countries. “Nowadays you find people putting different flavors in tamales or empanadas,” Dr. Portnoy said. “Over time, with globalization, flavors adapt and evolve.”
The owners of Santo Dulce, which serves churros, hot chocolate and ice cream in several Miami locations, didn’t want the restaurant to serve just one type of churro, said Laura Luque, a native of Colombia. She owns the business with her wife, Yule Nuñez, who is from Venezuela. In addition to the classic cinnamon sugar churro, they also have a variety of other flavors like guava and cheese, coconut dulce de leche, and maple bacon.
Santo Dulce does most of its business in winter. As recently as last week when the temperature dropped to the mid 50’s people were queuing for over an hour and yes people were ordering ice cream and milkshakes even then. This weekend, temperatures could drop by up to 30s.
“Everyone is going crazy,” Ms. Luque said.
Receipts: churros | Mexican hot chocolate