The highlight of our third week in Merida has to be attending the Los Dos Cooking School. Thank you, Jason, for gifting your Dad. Of course I got to tag along (for a fee of course).
The Los Dos Cooking School is on our street about six blocks south, how convenient. Chef David Sterling was our host. Yucatecan cuisine is a rich blend of ancient Maya and Spanish techniques and ingredients with a touch of French, Dutch, Portuguese, Lebanese and Caribbean influences.
The native ingredients used by the Mayans were very healthy and contained little animal fat until the Spanish introduced the pig. They use chaya (a leafy green vegetable), pepita (squash seeds), lima beans, turkey, corn, allspice, sour orange, papaya, cinnamon and cacao as well as habanero chiles in much of the food. So it’s different from the typical Mexican food you may think of with red chiles and sauces. The red spice ball is made with achiote and the black one is mostly charred chiles. They also use a green spice ball. These are called racados. On the right are empty cacao seed pods. In the jar on the left are oregano leaves, not the type we’re accustomed to using. Behind the oregano are cacao patties, not sweetened.
Meat (turkey, chicken, tapir, quail, doves, pigeons) is often cooked in a Pib or underground oven, and called Pibil as in Pollo Pibil (chicken pibil). There was no pib at Los Dos, however, David has concocted a way to get the same smoky effect using a cast-iron pot on the stove. He wanted people to be able to cook the recipes in their homes.
After we had a lovely Continental breakfast and learned about Yucatecan cuisine, all 12 of us headed off to the Main Market to buy the items for the menu. The market is a maze with small aisles and lots of people. We were warned to stay with our group and not get lost. I really had to take these pictures on the run. The market has pretty much anything you might want or need.
After the market we had snacks; salbutes and sour orange-aid, while the kitchen staff were prepping the food items. The snack, or lunch as Mexican’s call the mid-day snack break, really hit the spot.
It was time to get to work making the tortillas. David had a master teacher demonstrating how to make tortillas. We all had a chance to give it a try. David also purchased some tortillas in the market for us to taste the difference. It was amazing, like night and day. The homemade tortillas were far superior.
If you look closely, you will see el maestro has made at least three tortillas to my one! We’re working in the courtyard and on my left is the swimming pool.
We went on to make the pol’kanes, salsas, marinated onions, wrapped up our chicken breasts in the banana leaves and prepared the dessert. After all the prep work we had wine and dipped our feet into the pool sharing stories while the chicken roasted in the ‘pib’. It was a beautiful day. By the time the food was ready, around 4 PM, we were all pretty hungry. This is the time Mexicans typically have their big meal of the day. This was also the time I became more interested in ‘living the moment and forgot to capture it’! Therefore, I have no pictures of the lovely meal. Really, can you believe it? For what it’s worth, here’s our menu.
Botana: Sikil P’aak – a spread made with tasted, ground squash seeds
Panuchos and Salbutes –
Salbutes are like little tostados smeared with refried black beans, lettuce, turkey and red onion
Panuchos are similar except when the tortilla is fresh an opening is made where refried black beans are stuffed gently inside, then the tortilla is refried and piled with the same ingredients as Salbutes
Pol’kanes – “snake heads” or corn fritters stuffed with beans & squash seed paste then toasted on a griddle
(the Mayans didn’t have oil to fry)
Pollo Pibil and Arroz Verde
Charcoal grilled Chicken cooked in banana leaves in achiote marinade and green rice
X’nipek – Mexican salsa using habanero and sour orange rather than lime
Chile Tamulado – Fiery Habanero Table Sauce
Cebollas Encurtidas – Red Onions Pickled in Sour Orange Juice
Bread pudding “soufflé” with cinnamon syrup and nuts – Most delicious!!
And red or white wine
We were walking out of Los Dos at 5:15 fully sated and having had a wonderful day. Thanks again, Jason.
Some of you may be wondering how we’re doing ‘living’ in Mexico. Generally we’re doing fine. We’ve been in Mexico for a month at a time in the summer several times in the past. So, we have yet to cross over the one month point. What’s different this time is we’re renting a house and making it home, not vacation.
We do have times when things seem more complicated or difficult than they need to be. For example, we took a taxi to CozCo (Costco) this past week and asked for the driver to return at a certain time. We knew how to ask from our Spanish classes. We waited 15 minutes from the time the cab was to arrive and decided to head to the street to find a taxi on our own.
After waiting another hour and having several cabs pass by, mostly with fares, we took the bus home. It was our first bus trip and we had to walk four blocks home. At least we’d planned to only have three bags so it was manageable. It was the end of the day so the bus was full. In typical Mexican fashion, there is always room for one more so we were pushed a ways down the aisle. I was hanging onto two full grocery bags and the pole to keep my balance. Our two loaves of bread aren’t looking real pretty.
It turns out most of our inconveniences are related to learning to live in a new place. This would be the case if we were living in a new place in the US. Not having a car or speaking the language does present interesting challenges. It’s all good.
I’ve decided to close with a little picture story for your enjoyment. Just so you know we aren’t living through rose-colored glasses.
About Mexico, the good