(all images are the author's own)
I had an entirely different kind of adventure last week when I was invited to join a cooking class, which, needless to say, I jumped at. Who doesn't love a cooking class, especially one that involves wandering around the market gorging on all the delicious local foods before we even consider cooking for ourselves?
I was a little self-conscious at first. Being on a tour in a city that now feels so much like home was weird. I had to contain myself a few times when the others asked questions, or when market sellers assumed no one spoke Spanish or knew much about Mexico. But then, slowly, I embraced the freedom that acting like a tourist can bring and began to take photos with complete abandon.
Suri was our guide and she took us on a comprehensive tour of Lucas de Galvez market, the main market in Merida where she plied us with tamales, salbutes, juice, chicharrones, castacan, cow udder (sadly I can't remember the Spanish for this, although since I'll not be ordering it again I guess it doesn't matter much) and a variety of different fruits.
In case you don't recognise any of the foods I merrily listed, here's a cheat sheet for you:
Tamales: traditional Mexican food. It's steamed corn dough (masa) in a banana leaf. Personally I do not like these one bit but I still try them every time they're on offer for two reasons. 1. they're food wrapped in banana leaf so they ought to be awesome. 2. I always hope I'll like them. I never do.
Image is author's own
Salbutes: a fried tortilla with pulled turkey (or other meat) and a variety of veg type bits. Scrmmy every time and even scrummier when someone, such as Suri, buys them from her favourite stand for you.
Chicharrones: basically pig crackling but lighter and easier on the teeth. It's yum and easy to find in a totally sanitised form in the supermarket if you don't fancy purchasing it from the market. A quintisential Yucatan snack.
Castacan: pork belly. No need to say more. It tastes as good as it sounds.
Cow udder: yeah. Cow udder. It taste rubbery. Am I glad I tried it? Not especially, but given the other shit I've tried in my life I figured this wasn't going to be the worst. I was right, not the worst but certainly not something I even need to eat again. And it looked better than the cow lung that was right next door to it.
And then we took a bus back to Suri's mum's house. We began our cookery lesson with pudding (dessert to any non Brits), making dulce de papaya. Honestly, I don't love papaya. I have learned to eat it as I've lived in a number of countries where it's abundant and cheap but I don't generally enjoy it unless it's laced with lime or something else that masks its flavour entirely. That said, this was laced with sherry, which definitely made it edible and, dare I say it, a little bit yum.
While the papaya was cooking we moved on to making the salsas. We made a tomato salsa, an extremely hot, yet delicious, chili salsa, my favourite pickled onion salsa, and, obviously, a guacamole. I wasn't involved in salsa making beyond chopping but I can vouch that all were delicious.
Then we moved on to making the main course: chicken in banana leaves. Apparently a very traditional Yucatan dish, and very, very scrummy.
My favourite part of the course was making (oh, ok, it was eating) the empanadas. I was a little nervous as I've worked with masa before and failed spectacularly so I was keen to do a better job this time. Thankfully I managed and between us all we made several of the tastiest empanadas I've ever had.
My only complaint would be a lack of banter during the cooking process but that was probably more to do with me being the only native English speaker. Suri speaks great English but was busy ensuring everything ran smoothly. Sara speaks no English; she was very informative when asked a direct question but didn't interact much otherwise. I enjoyed chatting to her in Spanish after we'd finished but the others in the group didn't speak Spanish so we were stuck with English as the common language. Had I been with a friend (or, shock horror, my husband), I'd have been able to have a bit more banter in English or Spanish and it would have been more fun.
Once the food was ready, we sat down to devour. Honestly, with seven pairs of hands in the kitchen, it felt as if we'd done no work at all to produce such a delicious meal. I am sure that Sara was quietly working hard to ensure everything turned out well but we definitely got to take part in everything and we were all perfectly happy to eat the results.
All in all, a really fun and informative day. I had been to the market many times but never did I feel as comfortable wandering around as I did with Suri. I am also sure that the recipes we made are all replicable at home. I've already made the pickled onion with my kids and I'll be making empanadas, for sure, very soon.
To find out more, and see what else we've been up to, do check out my blog at yacasillegamosblog.wordpress.com.