Before my first program in Mérida, México, I imagined the food to be similar to that of the Mexican restaurants I ate at in Ohio and I could not begin to name dishes other than tacos or burritos. My preconceived notion of the food in the Yucatán was quickly changed for the better as I discovered the distinguished taste of the food in this region. The meals in México are important for the family because it is a time to converse and connect with each other. My roommate and I, despite being exhausted after a long day of classes, find ourselves conversing with our mama for up to an hour after we finish eating. This is expected in many households because they value meals together and it is crucial to spend time with the family. In the United States, the tradition of family-oriented meals is slowly disappearing and conventional meals with the entire family are not as common as they once were.
In the Yucatán, it is lunch that is the grandiose meal of the day, which takes place from around two to four in the afternoon depending on the family. We immediately eat upon our arrival to our house from school and are greeted by our mama and the alluring aromas from our kitchen. Lunch consists of meat, rice, soup, salad and beans. It varies depending on if our mama has more or less time to prepare larger meals. In my house last year we had two muchachas who cooked every meal; tthis year, it is just our mama so the meals are less involved. Dinner is usually later in the evening from seven to ten and consists of smaller dishes than at lunch. I enjoy the slight difference in the importance of meals and how the entire family gathers afterwards because it brings a feeling of togetherness.
I have three favorite traditional Yucatecan foods that I will miss dearly when I return to the United States. I have developed a slight obsession with a dish called tacos al pastor, which is pork marinated in a combination of dried chilies. It is then cooked with a gas flame on a rotisserie with onion and pineapple on top. It is thinly sliced and eaten on tortillas with chopped onions, cilantro and pineapple. Tacos al pastor seems like a simple dish that does not have much substance, but the flavors of the pork combined with the sweetness of the pineapple create a flavorful explosion in your mouth. These tacos are extremely cheap and offered at almost every corner restaurant where you can see the rotisserie slowly cooking the succulent meat. I am convinced that if a small restaurant opened in Athens that sold tacos al pastor, it would be incredibly successful.
The other traditional dish that is popular all over the state of Yucatán is a Panucho. It is another dish that can either be a snack or for dinner and begins with a small fried corn tortilla. The next layer of heaven is usually refried beans decorated with cooked turkey meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado and hot sauce made from a variety of chilies. It is difficult for me to describe the taste one experiences when taking the first bite into the crunchy panucho.
My other favorite traditional Yucatecan food is lime soup. The ingredients to this soup seem simple and the average cook could feel confident in the preparation of this food, but the perfect balance of lime in the soup is a masterpiece. I am fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of tasting a mastered lime soup in the state of Yucatán. The broth consists of chicken and turkey, limes, crunchy tostados and a slue of herbs. The simplicity is deceiving, but the taste is always perfect. When I go to restaurants, I immediately try their lime soup because each establishment varies in the amount of lime and other components used and it is entertaining to try each variation.
Food in the culture of the Yucatán peninsula is vital to the richness of the region because the flavors that exist here cannot be replicated elsewhere. The Mayan culture influences many of the common dishes today, which makes the food original and unique to this area. It is difficult to not gain weight while studying in Mérida, México because the food is always delicious and the atmosphere in which you eat makes you want to keep eating until you physically cannot fit another morsel in your stomach. I am excited to continue these strong values of food and togetherness during meals for the rest of my life that I have become accustomed to in Mérida, México.