Mi Mérida: The stuff we ate
Yes, we had Cochinita Pibil… and Panuchos. Even El Pastor (All the rage now in Yucatan!)
But the reason for this trip was to introduce P. to my homeland and of course have him taste the real flavors of Yucatan beyond what one could already order at your local Pink Taco. And so thanks to my cousins humoring me when ever I whipped out my camera, I’d like to introduce you to the goodies that I think everyone coming to the Yucatan should not miss out on.
Welcome to Merida: Poc Choc:
One of the best things about going to Yucatan in the fall is that it’s sour orange season. And one of the best dishes made with a heavy sour orange marinade is Poc Choc. The marinade this is not your typical citrus marinade though, it’s heavy with spices and garlic. The pork is marinated for over a day. Then it’s grilled over wood, so it gets a wonderful smokey taste.
Served with a Salsa made of grilled onions, chiles and more garlic, this was my welcome home meal. And I could not think of a better one…
Snack Time: Kibi:
One thing that people point out about Yucatecan Cuisine is how it has taken inspiration not only from Spain and the Ingenuous people. But since Yucatan used to be a major world center of trade its culture has influences from all over the world! Case in point my idea of a perfect street snack… the Kibi!! And we were lucky enough to find a Kibi lady on our first trip out!
Kibis, or Kibbeh to the Lebanese is a mixture of meat and bulgur that is shaped into a little football and then fried. It gets Yucatecan’ed up by adding pickled cabbage, pnions and of course, habanero salsa!
I know I’m horribly biased, but I’ve had Kibis and Kibbehs all around L.A. and nothing beats the ones you find in Merida. The mixture of flavors is just out of this world, always perfectly cooked too! After his first REAL Kibi experience, P. asked the Kibi lady if she ever wanted to come to America… he’d sponsor her… LOL!
Restaurant Trip: Resturante Kinich
What people forget about Merida is that it’s not the only colonial city in the Yucatan. There are several other great areas that quite frankly have more Yucatecan/Mayan spirit (Merida has always been a bit more ‘elitist’.). One of those towns is Itzamal. They are very proud of their Mayan Roots and the restaurant we went to even had mayan ladies handmaking our tortillas in the ‘old way’
Once here, we could not resist but go with two very traditional Yucatan dishes…
Starter: Sopa de Lima
Real Sopa de Lima Yucatecan is truly a special thing. With such tropical weather, the soup of the region of course not only has to be light and bright, but also refreshing and cleansing. No soup hits my soul like this one.
And the restaurant got it spot on. A nice flavorful chicken broth, substantial chicken pieces and the tartness of the lime all worked beautifully together. They even did the ULTIMATE in these types of soup, which is include pieces of zest… something Yucatecans consider very healthful!
Main: Queso Relleno
Another nod to our global roots, the Yucatecans LOVE edam cheese… One of the dishes it is brought to the forefront is Queso Relleno… a hollowed out chunk of edam, stuffed with beef and served with a thin roux (The mayans call it Kol) and rich tomato sauce.
I think the picture pretty much says everything here… Yes, it is truly as good as it looks…
One thing that Yucatecans love to do is socialize. Every weekend, people go out to the parks to socialize and play games with their neighbors. They also gather to enjoy all sorts of neat little snacks and candies. One of my favorites is the marquesita. Again, a nod to the merging of cultures, it’s very much like a pizzelle, made on a cookie iron with a sweet watery batter…
Once the cookie is almost all cooked, then it is filled with your choice of goodies. Cajeta, Nutela, or my favorite Edam Cheese (I told you we go nuts for it!)
Rolled up and ready to go, it’s the perfect on the go dessert!
The Junk: El Cubano
Climbing pyramids, swimming in caves, exploring century’s old churches all create quite the appetite… for junk food… we asked our cousins, what was the most ‘I dare you’ thing to eat among the teenage set. And they responded with the El Cubano Torta…
This is a typical teenage gut bomb you can get any torta stand. And each place does theirs a little different, but the overall feeling is the same. As much crap as you can put into a sandwich with cheese and lots of mustard.
Ours came with chicken, ham, bologna and although it hit the spot… I dunno if I would put myself through that again… heh…
Hasta Luego: Muc Bil Pollo
As all good trips do, ours came to an end with another grand meal courtesy of my family. The one thing I put on the TOP of my must eat list was a Muc Bil Pollo. Absolutely ubiquitous in Merida in October. They were traditionally baked in ‘pibs’ so their nickname is just that “Pibs!” Everyone must have them during the Day of the Dead ceremonies there and you often see little men driving around in gold carts in the neighborhoods selling them. Again, every family has their own way of making them. Ours is no exception…
As you can guess… it’s kinda like a tamale loaf/ lasagna. But you take a shallow pan (some use round cake pans) and you put in flavored masa on the bottom (like a crust) then layer on all sorts of fillings. We use Chicken and Pork, Boiled Eggs, Beans and Onions. Then add a salsa thickened with masa (To make it all gel) before adding a Masa Cap. Baked in banana leaves, you get a tamale to end all tamales…
And with that final happy shot… Thanks so much for reading my ramblings. I hope this helps you on your next trip to the Yucatan. Afterall, don’t get me wrong, Cochinta Pibil is a wonderful thing… but there is a whole world out there waiting for you to taste it too!
Man, I'm bloating just reading about that torta.Can't even handle those anymore unless I want to scuttle all eating opportunities for a couple of days.I did a quick run through Campeche,Quintana Roo, and Yucatan a year ago and am sorry I missed Merida.I had the most incredible relleno negro from a puesto in Playa del Carmen.
Any recs for this dish in Merida?Is it better from the puestos or the restaurants? Alot of shows are focusing on all the contemporary Yucatan cuisine.What's your experience with those restaurants in Merida?Any of them worth a visit?
Great report, by the way.
Dommy please correct me if I am wrong, but as of 2003 I didn't see much Contemporary Mayan cuisine within Merida proper itself... that seemed confined to THE haciendas of the area. The problem I learned from a hotelier in Merida is that Cancun's wealth constantly robs the Merida area of its talented Chefs & they just go to waste on some corporate Hotel restaurant where they are more busy coordinating the vast operations than producing quality stuff.
Lets just say they are an adventure... some meals are incredibly others are like stepping into an empty, gussied up place in a high rise in Polanco.
Thank you so much, Dommy. I can't wait to visit Mérida and Itzamal (I hadn't heard of it before). I usually travel in summer to get away from humidity, so the Yucatan has not been on my agenda. But I must go soon. Do you have recipes for any of these delicious-looking dishes, or must I wait til I get there? Dee
Yeah, I get a kick out of food history. Kind of like the German influence in Texas and Northern Mexico. What makes it interesting is when the tradition is exported again, and the roots are obscured till someone like yourself brings them to light. The French/Canadian/Cajun story is a good example. Cajun food can stand by itself, but the back story is fascinating. I love making the connections.
Was there a big Lebanese migration into Mexico? When, and where, and what caused it? If I know of these three food items, there are surely more that I don't know about.
BTW, EN, are you still writing a book?
Regarding the German... yes, what is really interesting is that we are seeing a reverse migration of Menonites from Chihuahua to Nebraska in search of economic opportunities (classify this in the climate change migration category as Chihuahua has undergone a 2 decade long dry spell which has now been conclusively attributed to global climate change).... I remember reading a blurb somewhere... somebody is doing a documentary on this and trying to look into their truly unique culture (I believe they are the last speakers of a specific dialect of Low German).
With regards to the Lebanese...
>> When? End of 19th Century through the end of World War II...
>> Where? Immigration primarily to Veracruz, Mexico City, Puebla & Guadalajara
>> What? Violence in the Ottoman empire particularly is it fell apart, as well as the Post World War II Middle East mess created by the Allies
>> Why Mexico? Lebanese, Syrian & Iraqi Maronites searching for a Catholic country, with economic opportunities (particularly in Textiles & other mercantile areas where they had a competitive advantage)... after the Mexican Revolution, during The Great Depression & run up to World War II... Mexico was one of the few bright spots on the planet. Culturally the era is known as The Mexican Rennaissance.... probably the single greatest period of Mexican creativity (although we are definitely in another such period currently)... in all the arts & cultural expression from Folk Music to Symphony, from Folk Art to Fine Art.... Film, Food, Architecture, Design, Industrial Expansion, Rising Standards of Living, Low Cost of Doing Business.... Mexico had everythign at the time that the rest of the world didn't (including Argentina, Uruguay & Brazil which began their decline at that time).
Book =().... I am currently working on Website of essays... but the going is slow with all the travel I do for my day job.... maybe 2 months to go live with an initial release.
Other foods... well Alambres (Kabobs) are very common throughout Mexico but most concentrate near areas of significant Lebanese immigration (particularly popular around Quintana Roo).
Then there are Tacos Arabes... different than Al Pastor these are a variety of Mexican seasoned style meats popular in Puebla that are served on a type of thin, very pliable, tortilla shaped & size Pita that is unique to Mexico (created by an Iraqi immigrant)... and served with Spicy Salsas & Jocoque (thicker than European yogurt, but thinner than Lebneh).
In terms of iconic street foods... that is mostly what I can remember... but there plenty of unbastardized, proper Lebanese restaurants in Mexico City, Merida, Puebla, Xalapa etc., and I have also spotted (although not yet become mainstream & popular) the use of grape leaves, various types of spicy garbanzo spreads, beans & tahini spreads etc.,