A bonanza of rare fruits, a family tradition for blazing hot Sunday
afternoons, and a supposed cure for last night’s walloping hangover:
the cholado is all of these things. One of Colombia’s tastiest and most
beloved drinks, this sweet concoction is best described as a fruit
salad on granulated ice, usually topped with condensed milk and jam.
A journey into the heart of cholado country means venturing into Jamundí, a dusty town south of Cali in the Valle del Cauca department. There, the Bonilla family, the infamous inventors of the cholado, carry on the same business they’ve been running for the past fifty years: dishing out icy treats to hot, hungry and sometimes still-drunk patrons.
“Cholados are something that my family has actually been making for 120 years,” said Orlando Bonilla, who runs the biggest and most popular cholado eatery in Jamundí’s Parque de Cholado. This park, about a five minute drive from the town’s central plaza, is where the curious should go to find the most authentic and lip-smacking icy fruit drinks in the country. The Bonillas, along with approximately 30 other vendors, hawk their wares from colorful carts loaded with ripening papayas, lulos and maracuyas.
Orlando’s father, Hector Samuel Bonilla, is hailed as the official inventor of the cholado, but Orlando says the honor should actually go to his great grandmother, Donna Rosiña. She used to make miniature ice desserts at home, and garnish them with lemon, honey and a wooden stick before serving them to her children.
Her son Hector was inspired to take the idea one step further. Christening his business the ‘Tres Niñas,’ he and his sons would sell similar ice, jam and fruit syrup mixtures from a wooden table that they would drag to the local football field.
“We served the cholados in these crystal glasses, 22 of them,” said Orlando. “And demand was so high that we had to serve them again to customers without washing them, because there simply wasn’t the time.” Hector would also tap out rhythms with his knife against the glasses, calling out to potential customers over the ringing tunes.
Modernization came to the cholado industry when Orlando was inspired to add chopped fruits to his father’s invention. Now, the 21st century choladería features disposable cups, not crystal, while prices have leapt from 30 centavos a serving to 6,000 pesos (about $3). Instead of mere ice and fruit syrup, Orlando’s cholados now come loaded with 13 different fruits, homemade jam, condensed milk, two wafers and, in a finishing touch, a sprinkle of Milo, a popular cocoa powder.
According to Orlando, a typical Sunday in the Parque de Cholado will see about 300 to 400 customers, most of them returning from a cooling dip in the Pance river, about a ten minute drive from Jamundí. Some seek the hangover special, consisting of ice, pineapple, lulo and lemon juice – no condensed milk for those upset stomachs. The cholado’s legendary status as a cure for late night aguardiente benders is no folk tale: Orlando’s father even earned the nickname “Mataguayabos.” Literally: Hangover-Killer.
While Hector passed away in 2005 at 86, his children plan to continue the family dynasty, replacing the “Tres Niñas” with a new generation of cholado havens in Jamundí, with names like “El Autentico Oasis” (The Authentic Oasis), “El Amigo y El Abuelo” (The Friend and the Grandfather), and “El Palacio del Sabor” (The Palace of Taste).
Orlando is also glad that his father lived to see their greatest business stunt yet: in 2002, the family decided to attempt the biggest cholado that the world had yet seen.
“It was a 2,000 liter cholado,” he said. “We must have used about 400 tins of condensed milk. We emptied crates and crates of fruit. It took us about eight hours to put together. I think we must have spent about $4,000 on that thing.”
Orlando says the family sent photographs and local news coverage of the massive cholado to the Guinness World Book of Records. “We haven’t heard back from them,” he said. “Maybe one of these days.”