Traditional Honduran food varies from region to region. Atol Chuco is a very Copaneco experience. Cool Copan mornings send Copanecos descending along cobblestone streets; teeth chattering and bodies trembling, on the hunt for comfort food to kick start the day. Copanecos and food enthusiast alike know that Atol Chuco is the only option for breakfast. THE place for this local specialty is “Atolera Y Pupuseria El Pijazo”. As the name implies, all you get is Pupusas and Atol. At 10 Lempiras a bowl, it’s a breakfast that is accessible to even the working class Hondurans. My initially interest in this place was sparked by it’s name, it’s a vulgar term used to describe a collision or punch – very Honduran. No need to divulge the term’s origin, but it’s worth asking a Honduran friend to clarify, you’ll have a good laugh. Upon inquisition to one of the cooks about the name, she replied with the classic pouted lip point, signaling towards whom I assumed is the owner; the oldest and meanest looking lady present, and suggested that she may be able to assist with an answer. The older lady scowled at the motion, leaving only a “pijazo” as the expected response, and laying inquisition to rest. “El Pijazo” is located on the first intersection crossing with the main road leading into town, on the left hand side. This is the area designated as a bus stop. Ask any local where it is, everyone knows this joint. This comedor is a humble establishment; outdoor seating and ladies cooking over a wood fire, burning in a clay stove, only feet away from the tables. You wont find Atol Chuco on the Bay Islands or Tegucigalpa; when in Copan, do as the Copanecos. You can have banana pancakes or granola any day and at any place on earth. Head down to El Pijazo and grab a bowl of Atol Chuco. Seriously, there’s more to Honduran food than baleadas, plantains and casamiento (rice and beans). If you’re vegetarian, you hit the jackpot. You can have Atol, and different vegetarian options for the Pupusas.
“Chuco” or dirty, isn’t a term you want associated with an unfamiliar dish in a foreign country. Don’t let the name fool you; it’s more Anthony Bourdain than Andrew Zimmerman, there’s nothing to fear. “Atol”, Is basically cornflour soup, tortillas in liquid form. Think gruel or porridge. For the sake of a translation, we can call it Dirty Cornflour Soup. Appetizing right? This is great opportunity to experience Central American culture. You can learn a lot about a country and it’s people from it’s food. Atol Chuco is a Traditional Honduran food representative of the poor, working lower class. Although I am not particularly crazy about the taste, I cannot resist sitting in front of a steaming, sometimes bubbling huacal (gourd) of this comfort food on every visit to Copan. It’s a great way to overcome the cool of Copan mornings and pay homage to those occasions when all you had to eat was a tortillas, salt and a few beans.
As with most staple foods in Central America, Atol is very basic. Fermented corn, ground down to cornflour, then mixed with water and boiled until reduced to a thick soup. Pour into a huacal, add a few red beans , a squirt of lime juice and ground squash seeds to top. You’ll notice from the photo that it is served without a spoon. If you’re offered a spoon, politely decline and you’ll earn some street cred. You are meant to sip it straight from the bowl, which also helps overcome the morning chill in Copan. If your Atol is too hot, give it a couple of swirls to cool, like a local would. If you’re still hungry, try one of the pupusas!