I keep thinking that I’ll keep better track of what we’re eating, especially for my close friend back in Ontario who loves hearing about food. With a fond nod to her, I’ve chronicled January in Mérida, with absolutely NO intention to continue on in this vein!
It has been interesting to see what we eat, though, and might be fun to look back at if we’re ever back to cooking in just one place all the time.
What I am going to remember with great fondness as we continue our travels is this well-equipped kitchen, with its full set of high-end Kirkland pots and pans that can go in the oven as well as on range-top, and its wide selection of cooking and prepping utensils. What I am going to remember always is Chris’ generosity in providing us with a set of brand new chef’s knives. That gesture was beyond any possible expectations we had when we asked if we could get a serrated bread knife, and will be looked back at with eternal appreciation.
Ted and I are creatures of habit, so breakfasts and lunches are not exciting. I start the day with yogurt and coffee; Ted with orange juice, either peanut butter toast or a bowl of Cheerios, and coffee. Ted eats cheese and crackers and a piece of fruit for lunch every single day. He’s an easy man to please. I like sandwiches, usually some combination of cold meat, cheese, and tomatoes on a variety of breads, rolls, or wraps. It’s more fuel than anything else.
Dinner is the meal I enjoy cooking, and where a bit of creativity occasionally comes through. So…. here are January’s dinners, with a smattering of restaurant meals thrown in.
Mole is a Mexican sauce made mainly from chilies and spices and thickened with corn, tortilla or bread flour. Green mole (mole verde) gets its colour and spiciness from green chilies and pumpkin seeds. Probably the best known mole is Mole Poblano made with chilies and dark chocolate. I’m not making my own mole; there’s a brand we’ve found that we really like, Doña Maria, and the containers are a good size for 2 people.
Papas bravas are simply cubed potatoes lightly coated in oil and spices, then fried on the the stove top or roasted in the oven, and served with a tomato-based sauce or salsa. I used a combination of chile, cumin, paprika, oregano, and salt, and canola oil, and oven-roasted them, which let me do the chorizo in the oven at the same time.
Potatoes are patatas in Spanish, but in Mexico the name is shortened to papas, both on menus and in grocery stores. Accents are extremely important in written Spanish, and indicate in the spoken language which syllable is emphasized. Hence papas are potatoes, papás are parents, and pápas are popes. Putting salsa on your parents or frying the head of the Catholic church are both frowned upon… as my Spanish teacher pointed out when I said both of those things.
“Al pastor” is thinly sliced pork that has been seasoned with chili peppers and pineapple, stacked, and roasted on a vertical spit and then thinly sliced. It’s the Mexican equivalent of shawarma. It’s available fresh or frozen at grocery stores – ready to grill at home.
During the first week of the new year we booked an evening out with Ann and Vern, two fellow Canadians who we “met” via our blog. We planned to meet for drinks at La Negrita Casita, a lively restaurant/bar known for its nightly live music, and then decide about dinner after seeing how we got along. (Meeting for “drinks” is less of a commitment.) It turns out that we really enjoyed our time together, so the 4 of us continued our evening at La Chaya Maya, a restaurant Ann and Vern were able to recommend from previous stays in Mérida.
Surprise! When I ordered pollo “Milanese” style in my online groceries, what I expected were frozen raw chicken breast scallopini. What I got were frozen fully cooked breaded chicken cutlets. Sometimes things get lost in translation. I really didn’t know what to do with them, but we don’t waste food. Ted said, “just fry them and do some pasta”.
Nachos were invented in 1943 by Ignacio (“Nacho”) Anaya García, a Mexican maître d’ at the Victory Club restaurant a couple miles from the border of Texas in Mexico. Apparently they were a spur-of-the-moment creation for a group of U.S. Army wives who frequented the club. They started out as just the chips, cheese, and a garnish of jalapeño pepper, and we all know they’ve morphed into a meal!
I started my new set of Spanish lessons this month, after becoming frustrated with the inconsistent format of those I was taking at La Calle in December. The new lessons are held at the Merida English Library, just under 1 km away. They are taught by an accredited teacher, who coincidentally speaks SIX languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese! The program leads toward Spanish language diploma studies, although we won’t be here long enough for me to attain Level 1. The instructor has allowed me to take 2 levels simultaneously; the appropriate beginner classes (“Survival Spanish”) and the level 1 classes which I’ll essentially just be auditing in order to gain listening comprehension. It’s still 2 hours on each of 2 days per week, but at less than one third the monthly cost of the previous classes.
The lesson schedule means that on Wednesdays and Fridays I’ll be in class until 6 p.m., “translating” into no time to make dinner at home – especially this month when we’re out every evening at MéridaFest events (more about that in a separate blog). So…. tonight begins the first in a new routine of two dinners per week in either a cantina or a restaurant. What’s the difference? Here, a cantina is basically a bar that serves food and almost always has live music, whereas a restaurant focuses on a wider variety of food but generally also offers alcohol. There are also lots of small take-out places with good, inexpensive food but no liquor license that don’t slot neatly into either category.
We had dinner at Dzalbay Cantina, where live jazz is king, and the food is simple and delicious.
In Spain, a sandwich would be el sándwich, or el emparedado, or maybe el bocadillo, but here in the Yucatan they are called “tortas” (literally cakes, but… not).
Sunday, January 15th. After a decidedly “meh” food truck lunch in the Plaza Grande of less-than-hot fried potatoes and deep fried turkey hot dogs (yes, that’s a thing here, so I felt we had to try it – once), we had a terrific dinner at Coyote Maya on Calle 60. Even though we just ordered drinks and 3 appetizers, we had enough food that some came home for the next day’s lunch. The restaurant has a really laid-back yet elegant vibe, and a varied enough menu that everyone can find something to enjoy. On Friday and Saturday evenings, when Calle 60 becomes a pedestrians-only zone, the restaurant spills out into the street, but on Sunday at 9 p.m. it was quiet, and they were seating patrons only in the enclosed rear courtyard, where a guitarist was playing.
Ted ordered an artisanal local lager, and I had a “Vampiro” (tequila, sangria, orange juice, and lime). Our “dinner” was three tapas-sized appetizer plates: one each of sopes, quesadillas , and panuchos. Sopes are akin to bruschetta, but on a base made of cornmeal that is reminiscent in texture of fried polenta. The plate included three, each large enough to split in half: smoked turkey; sautéed mushrooms; and longanzina sausage. The panuchos also came as a plate of 3, each on a crunchy tostada; the topping was a thin layer of refried beans, and a generous pile of shredded turkey garnished with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, and crema. Our third plate contained 4 deliciously filled quesadillas: one each of chicken, turkey, mushroom, and sausage. We took 2 quesadillas plus one panucho home for the next day’s lunch; next time we’ll know that we only need 2 appetizer plates to make a meal! Everything was accompanied by a really spicy salsa verde that we could (and did) add on our own.
Cooking for friends is always more fun than prepping for just two of us, so tonight I began a new “ routine” of inviting someone to dinner on Monday nights. Our long-time friends, who have made Mexico their winter home for several years, kindly agreed to be my guinea pigs tonight as I try out a new sauce: a poblano mole with cocoa. It’s one of several excellent commercially prepared sauces from a brand called Doña Maria, who haven’t let me down yet (their mole verde, adobo, and almendrado have all been delicious). Each tetrapak of sauce has a recipe on the back, which is a huge help for non-Mexicans to whom the sauces might be unfamiliar. I’ve found the recipes to be both a good starting point for identifying the appropriate protein and good Spanish reading practice.
Chocolate/cocoa mole is typically used with turkey, but I haven’t been able to find turkey breast or thighs (only whole turkeys), so I used boneless chicken breast. The meat gets roasted, then sliced thinly and combined with sautéed sweet onion and yellow peppers before being rolled into flour tortillas. The heated mole sauce is poured over the rolls, and garnished with both crumbled queso fresco (fresh cheese) and crema, and a couple of slices of fresh orange (naranja in Spanish). Since the mole has some spiciness, our side dish was cucumber salad dressed in cool yogurt, dill, and lime juice.
There were leftover enchiladas from our company dinner, but no leftover chocolate mole, so the enchiladas returned with melted panela and manchego cheeses and jalapeños, supplemented by an extra half oven-roasted chicken breast and some fresh pico de gallo.
When late afternoon Spanish lessons are combined with an evening event, it means dinner out, so Ted and I opted for a very popular spot near the Remate de Paseo where Cirque Afrique was getting set up. The 1958 Impala Café is decorated to look like an American diner; the female wait staff even wear turquoise and black poodle skirts, and the guys wear turquoise bowling-style shirts. The food is decidedly American diner – sandwiches and burgers – but the condiments include pickled jalapeños and spicy carrots. After all, we ARE in Mexico!
Much later that night, after walking home from our MéridaFest event, we stopped in for the opening night of a new craft beer pub just 110 steps from our front door and enjoyed a couple of beers, pineapple jalapeño wings, and the best pretzels we’ve ever eaten, accompanied by a oaxaca cheese, jalapeño and pale ale dip.
January 23rd. If it’s Monday, it must be entertaining guests with enchiladas night! I invited some new acquaintances from Spanish class over for drinks and dinner, and went with my tried and true mole verde chicken enchiladas (January 1st’s supper), preceded by totopos (tortilla chips) and a trio of homemade “dips”: tzatziki, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Our guests generously offered to bring “postres” (desserts, literally “afters”) and arrived with a delicious cake covered in a decadent marshmallow icing that had all of us reminiscing about cakes from our childhoods. I think I like this new Monday tradition!
No pictures; we were having too much fun getting to know each other. Besides, my plates didn’t turn out as pretty as on January 1st anyway, because the crema was thicker and did more of a “plop” than a nice “drizzle”, and the cake’s amazingly yummy icing ran a bit in the Mérida heat, but we all enjoyed the meal nonetheless. Wine and beer helped!
Earlier in the month we had chorizo mixed into eggs, a very popular Mexican breakfast- although we had it for dinner. It brought to mind one of my dad’s favourite weekend breakfasts: eggs scrambled with pieces of bacon and onion slices. The combination of smoked bacon and sweet onions sautéing together is still one of my favourite cooking smells, and it is what filled our kitchen tonight. In a nod to making our dinner “Mexican”, I replaced dad’s usual side dish of sliced vine-ripened tomatoes fresh from his garden (and sprinkled with salt and lots of black pepper) with my home-made pico de gallo.
We rarely go out for lunch, but I was in the mood to try a highly-recommended taqueria that’s just around the corner, and Ted rarely discourages me from anything I suggest doing, so off we went to Taqueria de la Union.
The tacos certainly lived up to their reputation: fresh corn tortillas lightly fried just enough to crisp them but still allow them to bend, and generous toppings nicely presented. Accompanying our plates were a spicy salsa verde, a mild red chile salsa, and pickled red onion – but really none of the tacos needed further embellishment. We drank in-house made lime-ade and horchata (a delicious sweet drink made from rice,milk,vanilla, and cinnamon). Total lunch cost? $210 MXN/$15CAD.
On a rainy day, what better to do than a test run of a new recipe? Tonight’s dinner is going to reappear on Monday’s “dinner with friends” menu, when I’m also going to make our friends guinea pigs for a jalapeño appetizer.
Friday night date night in Mérida: La Bianca Tropical Social Club around the corner from us (everything is!) has nightly specials, and Fridays are “Pizza Romantica”, with a shareable pizza and 2 glasses of the house wine for $279Mx (around $20CAD). They also offer free beginner tango lessons at 8 p.m., but we stuck to food and drink.
Saturday was time to use up leftovers again, which was a great excuse for making quesadillas at lunch, and a spicy green pasta for supper!
Chili night has come around again, this time with quick 2-ingredient buns from a recipe shared by our new Méridan/Canadian friend Rae. In a bowl, mix 1 cup self-rising flour (or 1cup all purpose flour + 2 tsp baking powder +1/2 tsp salt) with 1 cup plain greek yogurt until it forms a slightly wet dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a liberally floured surface. Cut into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball, place in a buttered cast iron or other heavy oven-proof pan, and bake for 25 minutes at 350°F. Easy peasy.
Monday dinner with friends, featuring the stuffed poblanos I tested on Ted on the 26th, with a side of bacon-wrapped jalapeños (in the photo below, just out of the oven) stuffed with a mixture of cream and oaxaca cheeses and gently sautéed chopped sweet onion.
On January 31st, on our way home from the Matisse exhibit at the Olimpo (more about that in a separate post), we stopped at Café La Habana (here since 1952!) for their $119MXN/$8.50CAD lunch special: a little basket of totopos, bread, and pico de gallo followed by a creamy cheese and corn soup,choice of main course, fruit-flavoured water, and a little ramekin of rice pudding with cinnamon. Ted had panuchos de pollo, fried corn tortillas topped with shredded roasted chicken, red onion in orange and habanero chili sauce, avocado and cucumber; a typical dish served in the area from Mérida to Campeche. I had papadzules, corn tortillas rolled around chopped egg and served with green pepita and red pepper/tomato sauces; another typically Yucatecan dish.
We’re ending the month with burritos: flour tortillas wrapped around meat, rice, cheese, pico, and spices, topped with a mole almendrado (a fairly mild mole made with almonds). I’ve learned this month that moles are not thickened with flour, but with crushed up dried corn or flour tortillas, which dissolve and blend into the sauce during its long simmering period.
January 31st’s “project” was my bi-weekly pico de gallo making session, resulting in 8 cups of the mixture, ready to eat as is on totopos or add into anything I cook that needs tomato, onion, and pepper.
And THAT is what a typical month in our Mérida stay looked like food-wise!
Have you followed any of the current WC blogs? They seem to be having a lot of weather issues. We had such an incredible experience last year on the Star. I would not trade our final itinerary for any other WC. I was just recalling our dinner in the Arabian desert. We were very fortunate last year.
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I don’t think our experience will ever be duplicated – that’s the only factor keeping us from rebooking. Ted and I loved every minute of that cruise (well, maybe not bis 10 into our desert dinner!).
Wow! Can’t wait to visit. Karin wants to cook with you. I want to eat! Your dishes are beautiful including in the pan. Bet they taste even better. This would put Chef’s Table to shame. We opened a bottle of Port from Porto last night for another WC remembrance. AlPS: Cheerios is my go to breakfast also.
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I think Karin and I have similar kitchen “ownership” styles so we’re definitely going to have fun…. and need wine!!! You and Ted will just need to take your Cheerios and stay out of our way!
Great fun to read — and inspirational. I’m inching down the scale though, in anticipation of a Viking cruise from San Juan to Barcelona in March, plus 3 weeks in London, so will have to wait to indulge. It’s the cheese that gets me! Have you learned a flan yet? Also, some Mexican English teachers, whose program here at Oregon State University I coordinated, made horchata for an event — no milk involved — just the rice making a dandy milk substitute — great for those vegans and gluten free folks.
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No flan yet – nothing that requires a specific oven temperature in the gas oven here. An oven thermometer is the only kitchen tool I’m missing!
This may be your best blog entry yet! Fantastic pics and descriptions. I love your writing style and humor. I love to read how you try to assimilate into each place you stay/visit by embracing the food, language and culture. But, then that’s why we travel, right?
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Thank you! And yes, that’s exactly why we travel!!
Increíble! I am so looking forward to being one of your Guinea pigs!
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Uh oh…..the pressure’s on now! I take requests!
Well, just WOW! Rose, you just blow me away with your creativity. Such a variety of amazing meals – and never an ounce gained! Damn it; how do you do that? LOL!!!
What a fun winter you and Ted are enjoying…
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Not so sure about those “ounces” THIS winter!