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Mi Mérida: Adiós Panadería

  • Dommy Feb 20, 2008 10:52 AM
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One thing that always strikes people when they visit Merida is how structures and culture have survived through times of conquest, war and now fierce weather. As someone who repeated goes back though, the first thing I usually notice is what has changed or been lost.

Case in point, Merida has had three major hurricanes threaten it in the last two years, a frequency shorter than anyone can ever remember. On the streets and in the government offices, there is a buzz of “climate change” and what it could mean to Merida and its way of life. And on my first day back, my cousin told me the news that oone of the victims might be our beloved panaderías.

Like the tortillería that was in my previous post, most panaderías in Merida are neighborhood affairs. In fact, they are even more center of life than the tortilleria because most women will start their day by going to the panadería and dropping off dinner!!

You see, the weather in Yucatan year around is much to hot to use an oven in your home. Instead, you use the neighborhood oven, which belongs, of course, to the baker. In some cases, the oven isn’t even in the panadería storefront, it is instead in his home!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

You drop off your prepared meat and pick up some bread for breakfast or lunch. Then, at the end of the day come back for dinner bread and your cooked meat! As a child, it always seemed magical… Walking into a huge room, with a menacing oven… people working it at all angles knowing exactly when to add and take out the baked goods…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

Stepping back into that old room, I saw absolutely nothing had changed… they even used the same machinery to make the dough that they have for generations…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

And then everything is still being prepped by hand.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

Even the shaping of the loaves, is an ancient exercise of a man slapping his forearm DOWN repeated over and over until he gets the proper shape.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

And through it all, the final product remains unchanged as well. Top notch, crusy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, perfect bollos… No panaderia here in L.A. even comes close…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

And it’s not only crusty bread they churn out of that oven… it’s all manners of Mexican sweet bread as well…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

Even pastry, like the traditional Yucatecan hojaldra, flakey pastry dough with ham and cheese inside. Again, one after the other, in and out of the oven… perfectly done inside and out…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

And so you see, this workshop, working at full capacity. Working as they have done for generations and producing with a product that is far superior to any thing we have here and wonder… what are they doing wrong? Why may this go away?

It’s because this ancient art form, requires an ancient energy source:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

Wood… Wood heats the oven…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

Bakes the bread…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

And that wood comes from one place, the rainforests. Which are being depleted and not only maybe causing the climate change, but also as they thin out, provide less protection for villages and the city when storms hit. The rainforest in the Yucatan has always been precious and sacred… but not, even more so…

And so, although there has been no official ruling yet, there is a threat looming on the horizon. And so although I didn’t have to quite say goodbye on this trip… I know that in one of my future ones, another huge loss will be waiting for me…

--Dommy!

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  1. Wow...that guy looks Understandably fuerte!

    I am in love with the fact that people still bring their food to be cooked at the communal horno - there is something beautiful, historical and interesting about this - especially considering the weather.

    I can only imagine the scents of baking bread and cochinita et al! Magical

    Dommy I can't convey how cool it is for me to be able to experience this window into the food culture of the Yucatan. Thanks a million.