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Winter ruminations

Twinkling stars The view from the Monserrate hill in Bogota during Christmas time.  

With winter to bid us adieu soon, my mirror reminds me of the holiday fat that I have accumulated, thanks to those tasty gajjaks I devoured in the winter sun and the large bowls of melt-in-the-mouth gajar ka halwa that accompanied my dinner every night. I will miss sitting in the warm sun, cracking open peanuts and gobbling them up while reading the day’s newspapers before the sun leaves, taking away all the warmth with it.

Most of all, however, I will miss the cold winter evenings which gave me the perfect excuse to visit the kitchen and fix myself some mulled wine. I first heard of mulled wine before it became a pandemic favourite (much like Dalgona coffee) on a trip to Colombia some time ago, and unsuspecting relatives became the guinea pigs for all my culinary experiments with the concoction.

Mountain top

Evenings are chilly in Bogota, the world’s third highest capital. And 10,000 feet above the ground, the Monserrate mountain top, a major tourist attraction in Colombia, makes one shiver even during daytime. I still remember the magnificent view from atop the mountain — Bogota twinkled brightly as the city lit up like drops of gold, a fitting spectacle after a hectic, unforgiving hike. Finding myself a bit handicapped at not knowing even a bit of Spanish, I surrendered to the maitre d’s recommendation and ordered a glass of vino caliente. Tourists’ medicine, he called it.

And what a brilliant “medicine” it was! Vino caliente, or mulled wine, is made by adding nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and sugar to boiling wine, mostly red. A few lemon peels are thrown in for good measure, and the resulting liquid is surprisingly smooth and velvety. With an abundance of cinnamon to tickle the olfactory lobes, vino caliente is best served with a pinch of salt to add the perfect zest. As a cold breeze came to haunt me, I brought the glass close to my face, soaking in the warmth before taking a sip of vino caliente. The refreshing concoction made a perfect companion for the beautiful Monserrate and a delicious panacea for my aching body.

From its vantage point, Monserrate offers a magnificent panorama of Bogota. Evenings generally bring with them cold winds against the backdrop of a city shimmering beautifully like gold. In other parts of the world, vino caliente is usually consumed closer to Christmas, when winter is at its peak. But perched atop Monserrate, it was hard not to confuse every day for Christmas, and I was not complaining if it allowed me to knock off some warm wine.

I was content with the blissful, heavenly taste of mulled wine, but the best part was yet to come. As I wandered about the small restaurant, exploring the vintage interiors, I bumped into a fellow Punjabi chatting with the bartender.

He offered what is perhaps a stronger version of vino caliente. “It’s just masala chai with alcohol, jee,” he said jovially.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 12:53:08 AM |

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