When Miami Temps Plunge Below 60, It's Time For Hot Churros

Dec 5, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 5:36 pm

On a busy street in Miami this week, people have been lining up for a seasonal tradition—churros dipped in hot chocolate. While frigid air gripped most of the country this week, temperatures also dropped in South Florida. It was just under 60 degrees — which has people pulling out their sweaters and boots and going out for churros.

Churros, of course, are sticks of fried dough, covered in sugar, typically served with, and dipped into, a side of hot chocolate.

There are lots of places to buy churros. But in Miami, La Palma Calle Ocho, on Eighth Street, the long dough sticks are pulled hot from a fryer, placed into brown paper bags and drenched in granulated sugar. If you ask, you also get a small cup of dipping chocolate – so thick it's more like pudding than hot cocoa. The restaurant is widely acknowledged to be, if not the best place for churros, at least the most popular. But it's popular only at certain times of the year. That's when the weather turns cold, or at least cool.

Among those in line for churros were Carolina Bonilla and Kenny Perez. They drove in from Homestead, Fla., 30 miles away. They've been coming here for the last 19 years, since they moved to Miami from New York. Perez says, "It's kind of chilly today so we're like, 'Hey, you know, it's a vote to tradition.' "

La Palma Calle Ocho is perhaps the most popular spot for churros in Miami. As temperatures dipped below 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a recent evening, long lines formed for the eatery's famous fried dough sticks.
Greg Allen / NPR

"Chilly" by Miami standards isn't really all that cold, acknowledges Janet Martinez, another person waiting for churros. "But just that cold brisk in the air is just enough to get everybody out and wear ... jackets and sweaters and scarves," she says. "And have that real thick hot chocolate that you only find here."

Churros are popular throughout Latin America, introduced there by the Spanish conquistadors. There are variations that can include putting fillings into the crispy, fluted dough sticks. In Spain at least, they're also eaten when the weather turns cold. In Miami, where cold weather is rare, people actually welcome a dip in temperatures. And they celebrate by going out for churros and hot chocolate.

At La Palma Calle Ocho, there are about 35 people in line on a recent evening, among them sisters Nickie Shaw and Veronica Toledo, who's wearing stylish black suede boots. "Yeah, she's got her boots on," Shaw says. Toledo says, living in subtropical Miami, "I have to take advantage, the one time of year" when she can wear them.

But I ask, why churros? "I think it's just the idea of the churros and the hot chocolate together," Shaw says. "If they didn't have the hot chocolate, the churros would probably be like, ehh."

One of those waiting in line at La Palma, Rick Parish, has a special appreciation for the chocolate. "Velvety smooth," he says, "completely laced with the bitter dark chocolate that I love. It's a great tradition and — you can see the line here."

As the evening wears on, the temperature even drops into the 50s. And the line for churros? It just keeps getting longer.

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Frigid air has gripped much of the country this week. And in subtropical Miami, people aren't exactly suffering, but it is chilly enough to enjoy a seasonal treat. NPR's Greg Allen reports that people are lining up for churros dipped in hot chocolate.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Churros, of course, are sticks of fried dough covered in sugar, typically served with and dipped into a side of hot chocolate.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: There were lots of places to buy churros in Miami. But this restaurant, La Palma Calle Ocho - on 8th Street, of course - is widely acknowledged to be, if not the best, at least the most popular. But it's popular only at certain times of the year. That's when the weather turns cold or at least cool. Among those in line for churros were Carolina Bonilla and Kenny Perez. They drove in from Homestead, 30 miles away.

CAROLINA BONILLA: And we had, like, almost 19 year to coming here.

ALLEN: And why tonight?

KENNY PEREZ: Just random, yeah. It's kind of chilly today, so we were like, hey, you know? It's a vote to tradition.

ALLEN: It's chilly by Miami standards - 60 degrees. Janet Martinez, another person waiting for churros, says, OK, that's not really cold.

JANET MARTINEZ: But just that cold brisk in the air is just enough (laughter) to get everybody out, wear these, you know, jackets and sweaters and scarves...

ALLEN: Down jackets, boots - it's all out.

MARTINEZ: ...And have that real thick hot chocolate that you only find here.

ALLEN: There are about 35 people in line at this point, among them, sisters Nickie Shaw and Veronica Toledo, who's wearing stylish black suede boots.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah, she's got her boots on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I had to take advantage the one time a year.

ALLEN: And what is it about cold weather? Why churros? What's the connection?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I think it's just the idea of the churros and the hot chocolate together. If they don't have the hot chocolate, the churros will probably be like, eh (ph), there.

ALLEN: Churros are popular throughout Latin America and, in Spain, at least, also are associated with cold weather. In Miami, where cold weather is rare, people actually welcome it when temperatures dip. And they celebrate by going out for churros and hot chocolate. The chocolate, by the way, is thick; more like pudding than hot chocolate. But we'll let Rick Parish describe it.

RICK PARISH: The chocolaté, which, here, is this velvety, smooth, completely laced with a bitter dark chocolate that I love - it's a great tradition, and I think everybody - I mean, you can see the line here. When the temperature dips down, people stand in line.

ALLEN: As the evening wears on, the temperature even drops into the 50s, and the line for churros keeps getting longer.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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