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Posts Tagged ‘mexico’

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What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to get away from cold Chicago and bask in the Mexican sun? Well, I was with my obnoxious family that took 2 hours to decide, read that argue about, what to do for every meal, so maybe it could be better? Actually, I’d have it no other way. A little aggravation is good for the soul. One thing that was easily agreed upon was heading to the San Benito Market in Merida (where my mom lives) with my two brothers. If you read my post on the market from the last time I was in Merida, you’ll see that I’m a big fan of the various tacos and other food items one can gorge themselves on. One thing I didn’t try on my past trip was any of the seafood. So, my brothers and I set off to find out if it’s as good as the 4-legged creatures one can devour there. We did start off with a couple of tacos each for an appetizer.

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What we found in the pescado section was that none of the “restaurants” served fish ceviche. All of the camarones one could want, but no fish ceviche. One of the stalls was willing to make it for us though. So, they headed over to the fishmongers and grabbed a couple of fish for us. One was a snapper and the other was something else. I did see some baby hammerhead sharks at the fishmongers’ counter (don’t know why my older bro didn’t get a good photo of those as I didn’t have my camera with me, but he’s not as bright as I am, so we’ll give him a pass), and the other fish did have a sharky texture, but I’m not sure if it was shark or not.

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This woman, with all of her years of skill and knowledge, proceeded to skin, inspect, and chop up the various fish. Then she added the lime juice, salt, and pepper, and mixed it around for a bit. She dumped it out and did it all over again and again tasting each time to make sure it was just how she wanted us to eat it.

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Once the fish was “cooked” enough and had enough of the seasoned lime flavor she mixed in some diced onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Out of the mixing bowl and onto our plate.

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When a little old Mayan woman serves you something she just made right in front of your eyes with a smile like that, how can it not be delicious? Well, it wasn’t delicious, it was beyond delicious! It was delovecious! You see, I had to make up a lame ass word and it still doesn’t do justice to what she just whipped up. With some tortilla’s and super spicy salsa verde none of us had ever eaten a ceviche quite so good. You could really taste the love she put into that dish. This woman didn’t want three handsome men like us (I’m by far the most handsome of the three, and I smell the best too) to go unsatisfied. I think all three of us left a little piece of our hearts, and stomach linings with her.

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This year for Thanksgiving we didn’t really have much of a plan. There weren’t a lot of options on the table for us. We could have gone to my mom’s in Merida, Mexico, but flights were very expensive this year. We could have gone to my Grandma’s in the Quad Cities, but no one there cooks anymore, they go to a restaurant in Andalusia. Not exactly a mouth-watering proposition. Almost all of our friends were with their families. It wasn’t until 3:00 Thursday afternoon that we figured out what to do. With so little time we decided to keep it very simple. So, we headed to Stanley’s and Whole Foods to get the fixin’s we needed to make a small dinner of four portions.

First thing I made was a sweet potato puree soup. I skinned and chopped up two medium-sized sweet potatoes and tossed them into a pot with 3 garlic cloves and 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the potato chunks were nice and soft. Once it cooled down a little I threw it all into my blender with a cup of soy milk and pureed it nice and smooth. I seasoned it with some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cinnamon and then poured it back into the pot ready to re-heat once everything else was done.

For the rice I simply rinsed 2 cups of rice and put it in our rice cooker. Once I poured in the water I added one diced carrot and 1.5 tablespoons of dried hijiki. I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then hit the start button. Simple as that.

For the Turkey I just got a 1.75 pound breast. I laid it in a large rimmed baking sheet and covered it with a mix of 2 tablespoons of miso, the juice from one lemon, the zest from half of the lemon, and some black pepper. After evenly coating the top of the turkey with the miso I put it on the lower 3rd rack of the oven at 400 degrees. I let it roast for about an hour. Once the hour was up I took it out and put a bunch of haricots vert all around the pan and poured 3/4 cup of chicken stock around the bird. I put that back into the oven for another 15 minutes. When I took it out I let the bird rest on a board and set the haricots vert aside. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of miso and 1/4 cup of chicken stock and poured that into the pan to mix with the rest of the juices. That was my sauce for the turkey after slicing it.

While the turkey was cooking I melted 1/4 cup of butter and slowly carmelized 1 sliced onion for about 20 minutes.

To serve, I sliced the turkey and laid it on top of the haricots vert. I spooned some sauce on top and then laid down some of the onions. I garnished it all with the other half of lemon zest. The soup and rice were on the side.

I cheated on dessert, we just picked up a pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream. It’s a shame we didn’t plan ahead because both Yuki and I make a mean pumpkin pie. I also make a pretty good ice cream. Oh well, we weren’t trying to impress anyone this year, so this worked out just fine. Maybe next year we’ll be more creative and extravagant. In the meantime, everything turned out really tasty and we have no complaints. It sure beats a restaurant in Andalusia.

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I must have driven my mom nuts with my quest to find the ultimate Queso Fundido in Merida. I was first turned on to the dish from a Rick Bayless “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” episode. He was on scene in Merida at a restaurant I couldn’t find and they served him this big dish of Dutch cheese stuffed with chorizo and drowned in a spicy tomato sauce. Somehow I got the name of the dish screwed up. I had first thought it was called Queso Relleno, then, for whatever reason I thought it was Queso Fundido. Credit that to me mis-browsing Bayless’s website. In season 4 he featured Queso Fundido, in season 5 it was the Queso Relleno that I was really after.

At any rate, I asked a couple of Meridaians (is that a word?) where they go for Queso Fundido. A waiter at one restaurant mentioned a place that my mom and step-dad have been to. Then, when we were at Mayapan, there was a small group of college students touring archeological sites and their local guide was from Merida. So, I asked him and he said, “go to El Fogoncito“. So, that’s where we headed.

Turns out that there are two El Fogoncito’s in Merida, so we went to the one closest to my mom’s house. Much to our disappointment it was located in a brand new modern mall. The atmosphere was so generic we could have been at a TGI Friday’s (turns out that it’s also a major food worldwide food chain, no surprise). No culture whatsoever. But, they do have Queso Fundido con chorizo.

I was a little worried because it was priced about half of what everyone elses entrees were. Was this a meal or an appetizer? When it showed up it was a small earthenware dish filled with melted cheese, chunks of chorizo, and a couple of flour tortillas. It was definitely not a main dish. It was, however, absolutely delicious! I mean, let’s be honest here, it was melted cheese and chorizo. I scarfed that thing down like it was nothing. Since it was an appetizer I was still hungry afterwords.

Seeing that they served Tacos al Pastor, I really had no choice but to order a couple. Not quite as good as the one I ate at the San Benito Market, but still pretty good. These were served more traditionally with onions, jalapeno, cilantro, and a slice of pineapple.

With plenty of room in my belly for dessert I also had to order the flan. This one was clearly not as good as the flan I had in Cozumel’s Sabores. You could definitely taste the love put into that homemade flan that this one lacked as this one was more mass-produced. The texture was a little more jelloey than flan should be and I’m not a big fan of the maraschino cherry on top (save that for lame cocktails), but overall it wasn’t that bad.

I didn’t get the dish I was after, but that was no one’s fault but my own. I guess I’ll have to bother the hell out of my mom about it again next time I’m in Merida. Sorry mom.

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I’ve long been a believer that the only way to truly understand a different culture is to head straight over to the local markets. So, our first morning in Merida, Mexico, a few weeks ago with my mom and step-dad (they live in Merida) we stopped at the San Benito Market.

What I love about the San Benito Market is that it’s not a food market, it’s not a textiles market, it’s not an appliance market….it’s all of the above! Whatever you need to buy you can get at San Benito. Need some produce? They’ve got everything from hundreds of different chilis to pineapples to freshly butchered meats. Need clothes and footwear? Take your pick! How about kitchen knives and other little chochkies? Sure. You can even buy a pet bird there. However, to me, the absolute best part of the market are the food stalls. With so much to choose from, various tacos, tamales, empanadas, sopas, etc., we decided that it’s best to just sample as many different tacos as our bellies could stomach.

The first stop was this stall that served up some outstanding carnitas.

Fresh slices of pork fried up on his hot slate to tasty perfection! Garnish with some onions, cilantro, carved up radishes, and salsa verde and you’re ready for all sorts of goodness. I really could have just ordered more of these, but there were more items on my menu to digest. So,…..

…it was off to this stand for a choice of more carnitas or…

…these achiote turkey tacos. I had to go for the turkey since I just downed a couple of carnitas. These were served with pico de gallo and lime wedges. Wow! I have never had pulled turkey so good. Screw Thanksgiving with its roasted bird, I want these little morsels instead. 

After walking around a bit more something caught my eye.

How on Earth could I walk past something like this without giving it a try? Influenced by Lebanese immigrants from three hundred years ago Tacos al Pastor are truly a thing of beauty. Juicy pieces of pork marinated in a red chili sauce, piled on top of each other, and roasted upright on a spit much like a gyro or schwarma. These are the kings of tacos.

I actually ate this guy’s pastor because the other one would have taken too long to cook. I had to have one and I had to have it quick!

Typically served with a slice of pineapple, instead, this guy served his with a creamy avocado salsa, chipotle salsa, and lime. MMMMMMM! That was it, the piece de resistance! Sorry La Pasadita, I love you, but you just don’t quite hold up to the genius of meat cooked on a spit and served in a tortilla.

Everything was washed down with some Jugo de Mango. The juice carts serve their juices with a plastic bag on top. This serves two purposed. First, the bag keeps the flies out of the sweet nectar. Second, it somehow keeps the drink cold so that the ice doesn’t melt, even though it’s 90 degrees outside. Genius!

Surprisingly, I was not met by old Montezuma himself. Either he took the day off or my stomach is stronger than it used to be. Just goes to show that street food in markets like San Benito are every bit as sanitary as a regular restaurant. Plus, you get the added bonus of auto emissions to help give the food that indefinable taste. The Japanese call it umami, I call it delicious!

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So, I’m sittin here at mi mama’s casa in Merida, Mexico. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get this Chiles Rellenos I ate in Cozumel the other day out of my taste buds. It was hands down the best damn Chiles Rellenos one could digest! Not wanting to spend a ton of pesos at extremely subpar, boring restaurants on the tourist strip of Cozumel I asked Donna of Aqua Safari (the hotel/dive shop that we stayed and dove with, and will again hopefully in the near future) where she goes to eat. I figured that she’s been there long enough to know all of the good spots where we can get the local flair. I figured correctly, as I usually do. She sent us to Sabores. It’s literally the home of a mother and her son and daughter that doubles as one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever come across.

We walked into the house and straight back to their garden patio. As you can see, it was a little tropical paradise. Palm trees, a little canopy, and a few tables all graced by some beautiful birds there to pic up any crumbs. I guess humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy Sabores.

When we sat down they immediately brought us a pitcher of this red drink. I thought to myself, “this is the first time I’ve ever been served Kool-Aid at a restaurant…weird!” Turns out it was Jamaica, a common drink in the Yucatán made with hibiscus. It does taste similar to Kool-Aid, but it’s much better for you as it isn’t processed artificially sweetened dye. We also had a choice of two soups. I got the Sopa Pasta and Yuki got the Sopa Verduras. Same great broth, chicken consomme, but mine had noodles while hers had vegetables. If I were a bettin man, and I am, I’d bet that’s how they got their names.

Once we finished our soup they brought us their dry-erase menu board. Note, the dollar signs are pesos and not dollars. At about 12-13 pesos to the dollar you can do the math, or let a calculator do the math for you. All you really need to know is that there is no possible way to get home cooked food of this quality for anywhere near this price in Chicago, or on Cozumel’s tourist strip for that matter.

Here’s the Chiles Rellenos. Man, just looking at this picture makes me crave it again! I got con carne option. Perfectly seasoned ground beef stuffed into the roasted poblano and drizzled with Mexican crema. Delicious chunky refried frijoles negros, rice, slice of lime, and a small salad on the side to help push the food through my tracts. Yuki got the pollo milanesa, thin chicken breasts breaded and deep fried, to perfection I might add. Not oily at all, but nice and crisp while the meat stayed juicy. Along with the usual condiments of salsa verde, salsa rojo, and tortillas we were set! Until dessert at least.

What true Mexican meal is complete without flan? Not this one! The best flan ever! Creamy, but light and not heavy. Just a touch of lime to balance the caramel. It was outstanding.

Everything was top-notch. You could really taste that this food was cooked in someone’s home, and cooked with care. Next time I’m in Cozumel I am definitely heading back to Sabores. If you know what’s good for you, especially what’s good for your taste buds and stomach, you will too if you ever go to Cozumel.

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