Like a lot of ex-pats in Whistler, Oscar Araiza Castro often gets a hankering for a taste of his homeland.
"Me and my three partners, we've been living here for the past 10 years," said Castro, co-founder of Aguas Frescas Whistler, which serves up a selection of authentic Mexican aguas frescas—translating literally to "fresh water"—at farmers' markets and outdoor events around the Sea to Sky. "We're from Mexico and these drinks are something you grow up your whole life drinking. Horchata, pineapple water, Jamaica water, these are things we have in our DNA."
Trouble was, finding the correct ingredients to make these light, refreshing beverages, typically made from either fruit, flowers, cereals, or seeds and blended with water and sugar, was no easy feat.
"We wanted to keep it as authentic as we could and to get as authentic products as we could," noted Castro. "Obviously, Mexico and Canada are far from each other, so it's a challenge to get the raw materials."
Eventually, however, the partners—comprised of longtime Whistler hotel and food-service workers—managed to track down a vendor in Vancouver who imports ingredients directly from Mexico. That led to the launch of Aguas Frescas Whistler this spring, and since then, they've delighted crowds at local farmers' markets looking for a tasty way to beat the heat.
"We decided to do it and I think it's paid off. The feedback of the people has been great. They've been loving it," said Castro. "We love to hear that response—especially with the horchata. 'You guys, I tried this in Mexico and you guys are matching up.'"
So far, Aguas Frescas offers four flavours, with plans to expand the menu. Their horchata is made from rice milk, "100-per-cent Grade A cinnamon" and Mexican vanilla, and is at once distinct and utterly familiar to a North American palate. (Some liken its flavour to cereal milk.)
"Even if you haven't tried it, that flavour triggers something in people's memories," added Castro.
There's the classic agua de Jamaica, made from hibiscus flower and, in a nod to Castro's adopted Canadian home, also includes fresh organic blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.
Another flavour, which Castro called "the bomb in the summertime," features pineapple, coconut, ginger, lemongrass and honey.
Then there's another refreshing favourite, made with cucumber, lime juice, mint and chia seeds. Along with offering a true taste of Mexico, Castro wanted to bring the authentic Mexican street vendor experience to the corridor.
"What you get in the farmers' market is the whole thing you get when you are in Mexico. The way the stand is made up, the way the containers are made, the way we serve the drinks, it's 100-per-cent a Mexican experience," explained Castro. "I hope you visit us and then the next time you go to Puerto Vallarta or Cancun or Mazatlan, you gonna be like, 'Oh yeah, I know that. It's Mexican water.'"
The stand has also brought a welcome dose of nostalgia to Whistler's local Mexican population—not to mention the Mexican actors who were visiting the resort this summer.
"It's been so well received and that was part of the thinking process at the beginning. We wanted to introduce something that is Mexican, so another Mexican could come by and say, 'I miss this,'" Castro said. "We've been having already a couple of Mexican soap opera stars, too. We didn't even recognize them because they were in front of us and then we hear that it's an actor from Mexico and he's loving it, too, and we're like, 'Oh my god! This is awesome.'"
Aguas Frescas Whistler is available every Sunday and Wednesday at the Whistler Farmers' Market, as well as the Pemberton Farmers' Market and at select events throughout the summer. Castro said the company is also in talks to begin bottling their beverages, but the ultimate goal is to open a storefront of their own.
"There are more Mexican beverages that you don't know yet and they're coming," he added. "We're going to give you the full Mexican experience."
To learn more, visit Aguas Frescas Whistler on Facebook.