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Have you tried a Costa Rican Churchill?

February 4, 2014

On a recent trip to the port city of Puntarenas, I noticed a bunch of signs advertising “Churchills.” All along the Paseo de Turistas, restaurants and stands announced that their Churchills were the best in town. Good for them, I thought. But what in Costa Rica was a Churchill?

Drawings on a few of the signs gave clues. Churchill’s apparently came in cups, and appeared to contain something with ice. Also, chunks of some kind. Maybe fruit?

I stopped at one food truck, mainly because it advertised that if a customer didn’t like the goods, they’d be free of charge. A no-risk Churchill. Perfect.

The price here was about the same as the other stands, ₡2,500 ($5), and a small crowd of people waited in front of the truck. When it came my turn, I stepped up and watched as three young people worked an assembly line, which included plastic cups, shaved ice, fruit salad, a little of this and a little of that. After just a few short minutes, my Churchill was ready. I was given both a straw and a spoon, and left to figure out the rest.

I went in first with the spoon, gathering fruit from the top layer of condensed milk. There were sliced apples, pineapples, strawberries and grapes, all plump and sugary. Digging deeper into the cup, I found powdered milk and then cola flavored syrup. At the very bottom, there were chunks of ice. It was sort of like a snowcone, but deluged with cream and fruit pieces. It was weird, but also unmistakably refreshing.

Although the Churchill is the official snack for Puntarenas, each shop has its own way of making it. Some add ice cream, and the fruit topping may differ. Churchills may be served in an ice cream dish in restaurants. Whatever form yours comes in, know that the Churchill has been the standard cool treat of Puntarenas for more than 60 years.

As the story goes, the refreshment was born in the 1940s when comerciante (storekeeper) Joaquín Aguilar Esquivel wanted something more than just a drink. At that time, ice cream was not available in the hot Puntarenas climate, and milk was not a keeper. So every day, Aguilar would go to a restaurant or food stand and ask for a concoction of condensed milk, syrup and other specific ingredients. Because his order never varied, in time the restaurant owners standardized this unique delight. Locals thought Aguilar resembled the British prime minister Winston Churchill, and often referred to him as Churchill. As a result, his snack of choice  received the name.

Although the Churchill is a Puntarenas institution, other coastal areas have their own versions. In Puntarenas, there is even a “Churchill Coloso” or colossal Churchill with scoops of ice cream and the works.

Both a treat and tradition, the Churchill is perfect for those who like fruit, milk and ice cream, particularly in hot weather. After trying one, you won’t even think about asking for your money back.

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