A few years back, I was sitting in a restaurant-bar in Playas de Tijuana, a newer neighborhood in that town with my Mexican half-sister, Iridia, when I first heard the word that would subsequently change my alcohol-consuming life. "Una Corona para mi hermana," she said to the waiter, ordering for her American half-sister. "Y para mi, una michelada."
MEEEEEE-chay-la-thah. The way it rolled out of her mouth so comfortably, with such conviction, and the way the waiter so clearly understood what she was asking for--it was like they were passing the secret code for something unquestionably and deeply Mexican. I had no idea what a michelada was other than, by sheer context, that it was a beverage. And that whatever it was, I wanted one.
The waiter arrived carrying a tray loaded with the contents of our icy, refreshing beverages-to-be: a bottle of Mexican beer served alongside a salt-rimmed glass filled with ice and about three fingers of tangy lime juice. I watched as he made our beer cocktails tableside, a sort of a low-octane take on the margarita.
Later I learned that for those who come from farther into Mexico, the beer-and-lime concoction I'd been drinking is called a chelada. A true michelada refers to a fundamentally different drink. It starts with the same ingredients, only add to that a few dashes of Worcestershire (salsa inglese), Tabasco and soy sauces, and pinches of black pepper and Maggi seasoning--a beer alternative to a Bloody Mary, if you will. It's savory but cold and refreshing. Advocates of this version often accuse cheladas of being diluted beer, Mexico's answer to English "shandy," which is made from beer and lemonade. I say: bring it on.