This month we are eating our way around southeast Mexico. We flew into Cancun and travelled down the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo towards Guatemala. It’s very beautiful, the water is crystal blue, but it comes with full-on tourism and touts so we decided to head away from the coast and explore the Yucatan and towns of the interior.
The land is lush, green and gently undulates. No mountains here and strangely no rivers, instead there is a network of water that travels underground popping up in cenotes. Cenotes are deep fresh water pools, sometimes open and sometimes in caves with stalactites and creepers hanging. They are very deep – up to 45 metres – and crystal clear, absolutely stunning. It’s possible to jump into them and swim, strangely enough even though they are so deep, they are not cold, and there are plenty of fish, which nibble your toes.
The city centres are old colonial style, sprawling out to poorer areas. We’ve explored Valladolid, Merida and Campeche. We seek out the markets, which are overflowing with avocados, mangos, chillies and just about every conceivable fruit and vegetable that grows in the south. The sounds, smells and colours are amazing and an interesting place to buy breakfast or brunch. Quesadillas, negritos, empanadas, tacos, gorditas, enchiladas, polcans, panouches, chilaquiles, huaraches…The list is boggling but we are beginning to navigate our way around the menu. The one thing that they all have in common is corn. Each is made from ground corn be it a fresh tortilla, a fried tortilla or made from masa (corn dough) that is wrapped around a filling, then grilled or deep-fried. Topped or filled with shredded pork, turkey, pork, fish, prawns or refined beans, cheese, pink pickled onions, avocado, radishes, shredded cabbage and served with a variety of salsas, this food is bright and diverse. Not a spud in sight! The salsa’s are nearly as varied as the tortilla dishes. The pico de gallo – diced tomato, chilli, onion, coriander and lime juice is fresh and zingy but the habanero salsa – which is the most popular, can blow your head off!
For the rest of the day there ae taquerias on the street that churn out tacos and various cantinas that serve bigger meals. In the interior, the food is pretty meaty and on the coast the menu is seafood.
We’ve been poking our noses into kitchens, picking people’s brains for recipes and were lucky enough to spend on evening cooking with a Mayan lady that we were introduced to. She made us real Mexican/Mayan home cooking. One recipe was this ceviche – without fish – as she explained ceviche is a process not a fish dish. It was fresh and delicious, perfect scooped up with totopos (tortilla chips). It could also be piled on top of a burger, fish or grilled meats or just enjoyed as a salad. And better still the ingredients are available in Ireland. It’s important that the avocados are ripe, which could take some forward-thinking. If they are a bit hard, put them in the fruit bowl with a ‘do not eat me’ sign for a few days and they will ripen.
1 small-medium onion
3 ripe avocados
a handful of fresh chopped coriander
pinch of crushed oregano
pinch of black pepper
1 tbs olive oil
juice of 3-4 limes – depends how juicy they are
a good pinch of salt
Cut the cucumber in half, then scoop out the seeds then cut it into strips lengthwise and dice.
Peel and chop the onion finely
Cut the avocado in half, removing the stone then slicing in strips (without going through the skin) then into a dice, cutting the other way. Scoop the avocado from the skin with a spoon.
Add all of the above ingredients together then mix gently. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if needed.
Sunny greetings from Celestun, I’ll be back soon for the cooking classes!