Episode 386 – January’s Food: 31 Dinners & 2 Lunches

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.

Best … landlord … ever.

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.

January 1. Warm flour tortillas wrapped around julienned roasted chicken breast, sautéed sweet onion, and a trio of green peppers (bell, poblano, and jalapeño). Topped with a spicy molé verde sauce, cooled with a drizzle of crema (a thick Mexican version of crème fraiche) and garnished with crunchy slices of tomatillo.

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.

January 2. I used up the rest of the previous day’s mole verde to create a dish reminiscent of Thai green curry: sliced chicken breast with chunks of green bell pepper in mole sauce, served over rice and garnished with braised leeks. Voila! “Arroz con pollo en mole adornado con puerros”.

January 3. Lazy dinner (really, aren’t they all?) of chorizo, papas bravas with a smoky spicy salsa taquera, and fresh homemade pico de gallo as our “veg”.

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.

January 4. Al pastor tacos topped with grilled pineapple and onion, and crumbled panela cheese. Without a special taco stand like those that restaurants have, it’s hard to take an attractive picture of tacos. Oh well. They tasted yummy.

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.

January 5. My Chaya Maya dinner (and I was worried about MY plating).
“Los Tres Mosqueteros Yucatecas”, the Yucatecan Three Musketeers, consists of three corn crepes filled with chaya (“tree spinach”) and turkey, topped with 3 different traditional Yucatecan sauces. Relleno Negro (a sauce made with black chili paste, and my favourite taste of the three), Pipián (puréed greens and pumpkin seeds), and Papadzul (tomato and habanero). The food that looks a bit like piped mashed potato is actually slightly sweet mashed plantain. Hard-boiled egg is a frequent garnish here.

January 6. Chile con carne made with ground beef, sweet smoky chipotles adobados (marinated chipotle peppers), frijoles bayos (bay beans), chopped white onion and green bell pepper, prepared salsa casera (for the tomato component), sliced pickled jalapeños (La Costeña brand inexplicably comes with slices of very spicy carrot!), crushed dry red chile pepper, and adjusted for what turned out to be a bit too much heat with a swirl of crema. All that spice and heat was also offset by sweet cornbread dusted with cinnamon from the local panaderia.
Hindsight is 20/20. I should have taken the photo BEFORE the crema….

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”.

January 7. Chicken cutlets and pasta. Whatever. I added a few sautéed leeks and garlic, a bit of shredded parmesan, and a few slices of fresh ripe plum tomatoes, and it wasn’t bad at all!

January 8. Chuletas a la Mexicana (Mexican style pork chops) with rice. The chops get seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and oregano, seared, and then cooked to desired doneness with pico de gallo (my onion/tomato/pepper/lime go-to mixture) to which a little extra chili paste has been added, so it creates a tomatoey sauce as it simmers. Total cooking time under 30 minutes – just long enough for the rice!

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!

January 9. We had leftover chili con carne, and we ALWAYS have totopos (tortilla chips), cheese, pico de gallo, and jalapeños on hand, so nachos were a quick dish to assemble and pop into the oven just long enough to melt the cheese. Yum. Pass me a Mexican beer, please.

January 10. Chorizo and eggs, prepared with garlic and onions, served (as is traditional) with refried beans and warm flour tortillas. This is typically a Mexican breakfast dish, but neither of us really enjoy big breakfasts, and I’m certainly not in the mood to cook one when I get up in the morning, so … eggs for dinner it is!

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.

January 11. A treat: beef! AND in a lovely rooftop setting! A wonderful juicy cheeseburger on a fresh brioche-style bun, served with house-made potato chips and a tiny pot of ketchup. Ted had a Ceiba, a Yucatecan amber lager, and I had a Modela “michelada” (a beer Bloody Mary, made at Dzalbay with lots of Worcestershire-type spice).

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).

January 12. The infamous breaded chicken cutlets return as hot sandwiches, topped with fried onions and peppers in a spicy salsa de chile fresca (fresh chile pepper sauce).
January 13. SO not pretty (yes, I know what it looks like), but it was tasty.
Cerdo con Salsa Verde, con Lentejas y Frijoles Refritos con Tomates y Cebolla. Sounds way better than pork stew in green sauce with refried lentils and beans, tomato, and onion, doesn’t it? In this recipe, the “green sauce” gets its colour and flavour from fresh basil leaves, and is served over rice.
January 14. Chicken breast spiced with ancho chile rub, in flour tortillas with shredded manchego cheese, pico de gallo, crema, and fresh creamy avocado.

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.

January 15. L to R: quesadillas, panuchos, and sopes, at Coyote Maya.

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.

January 16. Chicken enchiladas with poblano cacao mole. Going with the chocolate theme, I bought chocolate saritas at the local cake shop for dessert. “Sarita” is simply a diminutive of the name Sara, but these were stacked biscuits sandwiched together with just a tiny bit of jam, lightly iced and rolled in chocolate sprinkles, then topped with a dark chocolate disc and a bit of mocha icing.
January 17th. A decidedly non-Mexican dinner: spaghetti, 3-cheese tomato sauce, Argentinian chorizo, and Parmesan cheese, garnished with a few strips of red bell pepper.

January 18. Cerdo Arrechera. Pork skirt steak in an adobo barbecue sauce, with papas bravas (fried potatoes) seasoned with mild chile guajillo powder.

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.

January 19. If you’re seeing a recurring theme of tortillas in our dinners, think of them as the Mexican equivalent of pasta in Italy, or rice in China. While Mexicans certainly eat bread (lots of it), rice, and potatoes, flour or corn tortillas are definitely the most common starch component of Mexican meals,

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!

January 20. A double cheeseburger with fries (the menu just said “meat”, in both Spanish and English), and grilled chicken breast with fries, salad, and spicy pickles.

January 21. Roasted and crisped skin-on chicken thighs, with oven roasted lightly salted potato wedges, and the same slightly spicy adobo barbecue sauce we used for our pork skirt steak. And what do you drink with an inexpensive pre-concert meal? A Mexican blended white wine from a tetrapak, of course! Gotta say: pretty tasty, and the winery has been around since 1952, so they’re doing something right!

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.

A blonde and an amber walk into a bar and completely forget to take pictures of the food.

January 22. If you’ve been out for late-night beers the night before, slept in, rushed to get to the (fabulous) noon-hour first concert of the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra’s 39th season, put away your weekly grocery order, prepped the next night’s company dinner, AND you’re heading out to an 8 p.m. outdoor concert, what you end up eating for supper is pancakes and bacon with home-made cinnamon-y chunky applesauce.
¡así es la vida! (that’s life!)

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!

January 24. Argentinian and Spanish-style chorizos, served with “Spanish” rice (rice cooked in tomato juice spiced with jalapeños, onion, and cilantro), requiring a side of tongue-cooling cucumber spears.

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.

January 25. Dad never served his eggs with Mexican red wine, but somehow I think he would have approved.

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.

January 26. L to R: lechón al horno (oven roasted suckling pig garnished with diced sweet white onion and tomato); longaniza de valladolio (spiced sausage done in the style of the Yucatecan city Valladolid, garnished with pickled onion, radish, and cilantro); and pork belly al pastor (pork belly marinated in spices and pineapple juice, garnished with chopped sweet onion, fresh pineapple, and cilantro).

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.

Ingredients: ground meat, poblano peppers, cooked white rice, chopped garlic, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and shredded Manchego cheese. Naturally, I’m not going to use prepackaged taco seasoning when I have ground chile guajillo and an adobe spice mix from the local market. I’m also substituting chopped onion for the garlic (because I’ve run out of fresh garlic!).
January 26. Poblanos rellenos (stuffed poblanos)

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.

January 27. Lovely ambience, great brusqueta (bruscetta) appetizer with chile olive oil, hot habanero salsa, and “salsa inglese” (“english sauce”, which is what Worcestershire is sensibly called here!), 2 glasses of quite decent house red wine, and a pizza that reminded us of the ones we enjoyed so much in Trieste. The appetizer and a 10% tip brought the bill to
$400 MXN/$28.40CAD/$21.30 USD.

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!

January 28. Mole verde chicken pasta with a squirt of lime.

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.

January 29. Spicy chili con carne and fresh buns.
January 29th’s dessert/snacks from one of the vendors at the huge downtown market. Pumpkin seeds and fresh coconut chunks, coated in melted brown sugar to a texture half-way between a brittle and fudge. A little goes a long way – it’s VERY sweet. A friend compared it to the texture of Quebec “sucre á la crème”, and she was absolutely right!

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.

January 30. Our friends brought dessert: stunningly piped meringues, and coconut sweet braided brioche!

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.

Top: “bread” basket, cheese & corn soup. Centre: panuchos. Bottom: papadzules, rice pudding.

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 31. Yes, that is sliced platano (the same word is used for both bananas and plantain) beside my mole-covered burrito. Platano is a typical Yucatecan side-dish with meats; once you get your head around d the idea, it’s really quite tasty!

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!


  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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!).


  2. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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!


  3. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 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…

    Liked by 1 person

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