Saturday, November 26, 2011

Talking Turkey In Isla Mujeres & The Yucatan

Talking Turkey In Isla Mujeres

19th Century painting
The type of turkey that is native to the Yucatan Peninsula is Pavo Ocelado or Guajolote de Monte. Pavo & guajolote both mean turkey as does totole. De monte means wild, and ocelado translates as ocellated, which means having eye-like markings. It is named for the spots on its tail feathers. In English it is the Ocellated Turkey. (Meleagris ocellata). In Maya he is known as  the grand Kutz. On the Mayan horoscope, Kutz is "Pavo Real", which is a peacock.
 It only lives within a 50,000 square mile area consisting of the Yucatan peninsula and extending a little ways across the northern borders of Belize & Guatemala and the southern borders of Chiapas & Tabasco. They are a smaller subspecies of the North American Wild Turkey, with females weighing 3-4 kg. (6-8 lbs.) and males weighing 5-6 kg. (11-15 lbs.).

The males have beautiful iridescent plumage with hues of blue, yellow, violet, green and white, as you can see in this photo from Yucatan Adventures.

They are very shy and sleep in tree branches, spending most of their time on the ground feeding on shoots, seeds, and insects. They live in small family groups in areas of brush and are easily startled. Mayans capture them and fatten them in pens. Turkeys a traditional part of the Yucatan diet, being one of only two species of fowl  to have been domesticated before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico (the other was Muscovy duck). Turkeys quickly became popular in Europe, replacing stringy peacocks, and each ship returning to Spain was ordered to include 5 pairs in their cargo.

Relleno Negro Chilemole, a traditional turkey dish at Yucatan religious events, is offered at the festival of the Virgin of Fatima in Isla Mujeres.
Juarez & Matamoros, by Cafecito
The turkeys for sale in Isla Mujeres are white, domestic turkeys. The woman who sold them at the corner of Juarez & Matamoros usually sold them alive. A friend told me people prefer to buy them alive because, "You don't know how long they've been dead." Last year during the week before Thanksgiving, a turkey came walking up our sidewalk into Gringolandia from the neighborhood of the Chiapanecos, which was pretty funny. 
When we ate roasted turkey for the first time in Isla Mujeres, it was with local friends celebrating the New Year. We were surprised to find they stuffed it with ground meat, which turns out to be customary on the island. Isla families eat turkey on Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Salina Chica
 To roast a turkey Isla Mujeres style, first you marinade it overnight in a pot using juice from both sweet and sour oranges (naranja agria). To season it you will need to buy some recado blanco from one of the women selling vegies & masa on the street corners, where you can probably buy the pineapple and apples you will need. There are three recados, I have written about the red one made with achiote and used in pibils. The third one is recado negro.
Recado blanco is a blend of allspice, cloves, garlic, toasted Mexican  oregano, toasted cumin, peppercorns, and coarse salt ground in a mortar with bitter orange juice/naranja agria.
Tacos Picadillo
The ground meat (half pork & half beef) that is stuffed inside the turkey is a complex dish in itself, called picadillo, for which you will need garlic, cloves, onion, a tomato, raisins, capers, pitted green olives, Mexican oregano, salt and  pepper. You cook the meat in two glasses of water until you've cooked off all the liquid. Then you fry the other ingredients  in hot olive oil, adding the meat. Diced potatoes may be included.
 After you've put the picadillo into the bird, add some pieces of apple and pineapple. You will put pineapple in the pan, outside the bird, later. Some people add apples. The turkey will be basted with butter (margarine) and pineapple juice. It will be rotated and repositioned several times to allow the all parts of the skin to become golden and crispy. 
These turkeys were not roasted In Isla Mujeres. I should have a photo of that after New Years. Buen Provecho, ya'll!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting Cheesey In Isla Mujeres

Say Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeese!
.....or Queso!!
  If you shop at the groceries in Isla Mujeres, you won't find the cheeses you see in the dairy case "back home". (Except maybe at Chedraui, due to open next month.) Where's the Cheddar?  No Monterrey Jack. Isn't that a Mexican city?  (Jack originated in Monterey, California.)
You'll recognize Gouda & Edam from Europe, but most of the selections are labeled "Manchego". (This year there is Philadelphia Cream cheese sometimes, now with Poblano or Chipolte.)
    If you ask around the isle, residents & expats are likely to rave about string cheese from Oaxaca, sold by the strolling man in white, chanting "QUEsooooo OaXAcaca!
The packaged cheeses at "El Super" on the town square. From left they are Gouda, Manchengo, Edam, Oaxaca, and Crema Fresca.
    In the Yucatan, specialty cheeses come from Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Chihuahua. Names and appearances are not as standardized as American consumers are accustomed to, and cheeses are also sold in bulk from individual vendors. If you prefer your cheese labeled and shrink wrapped in plastic, your choices will be fewer and less interesting.  Local families often seek out particular sellers, and place special orders with friends traveling to the countryside, to obtain their favorite varieties.

    This is a list of Mexican cheeses, except Edam which is a European cheese with a strong history in the Yucatan. Its information follows the Mexican cheeses. You will have no difficulty finding Edam in Isla Mujeres, because it is essential to certain dishes of  the region and an intrinsic element of the cuisine. It might be on the shelf, rather than in the refrigerator. Its resistance to spoilage is partially why it has been popular in the Caribbean for centuries.
    In general, this list begins with the soft fresh cheeses and works its way down to the harder aged cheeses. Descriptions of flavors are generalizations, like saying, "That meat tastes like chicken."

Queso Fresco: A  fresh white cheese that is sprinkled atop many dishes, with a flavor similar to Parmesan or Feta. It is usually made with a combination of milk from goats and cows. It is grainy, mildly acidic, and classified as a soft cheese. These are chilaquiles at Buccanero's on Hidalgo. They are a breakfast dish and hangover remedy and are topped with Queso Fresco and media crema. Photo by JackieinPdx.

  Queso Anejo: An aged version of Queso Fresco which is technically considered a soft cheese, but it is actually firm and salty. (Anejo means aged.) It is similar to Romano or Parmesan, with a hint of Feta. It is usually grated or crumbled atop dishes as a condiment. It may be coated in paprika. When it is coated in chiles, it is called Queso Anejo Enchilada.
Queso Blanco: A fresh, creamy white cheese that softens when heated but does not melt. Its flavor reminds me of a slightly sour, low fat cream cheese. Is described as similar to cottage cheese or mozzarella.  When it is homemade, it is processed with lemon juice rather than rennet, giving it a superior flavor. It is made from skimmed cows milk, which is how it differs from Queso Fresco which traditionally includes goat's milk. It can be tricky to find a substitute for this cheese, because it does not run when it is heated, but retains its shape. It is made like "Farmer's Cheese" by draining the whey out of cottage cheese, but it is slightly more acidic due to using vinegar or lemon juice to separate the curds and whey.  If the curds are pressed, it is called "Queso Seco".
Queso Panela or Queso de Canasta: A fresh bland, soft, white cheese with an imprint of a basket. (Canasta means basket. Pan means bread. Panela probably refers to its spreadability.) It is often used for appetizers or snack trays and lends itself well to integrating other flavors. Serving it coated with a paste of chile & garlic is a popular option. It is also popular because it softens when heated,  retaining its shape, without melting and running. It is similar in flavor  to "Farmer's Cheese" or a light cream cheese.
 Queso Requeson: A  less common soft fresh cheese that is also used for cheese spreads. It is similar to ricotta but less salty. It is loose in texture and mild in flavor. When it is sold in mercados, it is often wrapped in fresh corn husks. I have not seen it in Isla Mujeres.  Queso Oaxaca:
A string cheese that is very popular for snacks, quesadillas, and melting atop dishes. It looks like a string cheese mozzarella and tasted similar to Muenster. It is a stretched curd cheese that is kneaded then wound into balls.
Shrimp Quesadilla w Oaxacan Cheese in IM
photo by Jessica at Food & Us 

Before preparing a dish with it, it is pulled apart into thin strips. It is also known as Quesillo. It is sold as an artesian cheese in Isla Mujeres. Friends & family members may return to Isla from the countryside,  bringing balls of Oaxacan cheese from particular areas or vendors, as well as recommending the product of the strolling vendor who chants "Kay SO! Wha  HA Ca Ca Ca...."("Queso Oaxaca") The first time I heard him, I asked my friend, "Why is that man in white walking down the street yelling "Caca?" (which means "shit"). Another of my linguistic confusions that she found amusing.   
La Bruja's Queso Fundido, La Gloria. 
Photo HollyEats
Queso Asadero: This means "Broiler" and it is a mild, chewy cheese used for chile rellenos and fundido. Chiles rellenos are stuffed chile peppers and fundido is similar to chile con carne or cheese fondue. It is melted cheese that is a popular late night snack with a variety of additions such as meats, shrimp, lobster, cactus (nopalitos), mushrooms, salsa, etc. You could substitute Muenster, Jack or Fontina. The Asadero cheese from Oaxaca has a distinctive flavor because wild berries (Trompillos) are used when making it.
 Queso Fundido with chorizo (sausage) at Rene & Renee's on Avenue Madero, an east/west street. They are just off Rueda Medina (main street) before Juarez (the one way street). She specializes in homemade style cooking and he is a very accommodating host, serving breakfast & lunch and closed on Sundays. Photos HollyEats.  
Queso Chihuahua: Available in the US. Unlike most Mexican cheeses which are white, this one is pale yellow and varies in flavor from mild to sharp. It is also called Queso Menonita, since it originated in the Mennonite communities of Northern Mexico. It is used for queso frito, a breaded fried cheese dish from the Caribbean. It is usually compared to a cheddar or a jack.
Queso Criollo: A mild cheese from Taxco that is very similar to Muester. I have not seen it in Isla Mujeres.
 Manchego IM Super   
Photo: Gringo in Paradise
Queso Manchego:  You will have no problem finding this cheese in Isla Mujeres; it is the most common cheese on the island. It is nothing like the cheese of the same name from Spain that is made from sheep's milk. It is a mild cheese made from cow's milk. There is a huge selection of it at "el Super", you may find it on your pizza, and at Jax your Nachos are smothered in it. It is buttery, soft, and mild in flavor. It is often compared to Monterrey Jack, and is popular for snacking and melting. 
Queso Manchego Viejo is an aged version of this cheese that is harder, saltier, and more of a condiment that is grated over dishes.

Queso Cotijta: A sharp crumbly cheese that originated in Cotija, Michoacan. It is called the Parmesan of Mexico and is sprinkled over beans, salads, soups and other dishes to add flavor. Like Parmesan it is often sold already grated. The aged version is called "anejo". Now Cotija is usually made from cow's milk and is described as "lively" or "zesty". It is not a snacking cheese, and is more of a condiment. It is also called Queso Anejo.

Caribbean Cheese:  
Duroblando: A firm cheese similar to Cotija, with a mild smokey flavor. 

 Queso Edam: A pale yellow Dutch cheese that travels well and does not spoil easily. It is coated in red wax and called "Queso de Bola" in Isla Mujeres. It is used to make a traditional Yucatan dish called "Queso Relleno" where it is stuffed with a ground pork mix called "Picadillo" which includes peppers, onions, tomatoes, raisins, capers, olives and herbs and spices. Then it is baked or steamed until the filling is hot and gooey.  It is a flavorful cheese that is popular for snacking with fruit.
 The Isla Mujeres Marquesita vendor has a sign that says "Queso de Bola" which means he uses Edam cheese to make this traditional treat. The following photos show him creating a Marquesita, which is a crispy crepe that is stuffed with Edam (and in this case Nutella)then rolled. Photos posted by Yolanda at Infojardin.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Huevos Motulenos: Eggs w Green Peas & Ham

Huevos motule├▒os : Two fried eggs stacked on crispy tortillas smeared with refried black beans, topped  with red sauce, sliced ham, peas, and cheese crumbles, sometimes with thinly sliced onions and crema fresca, served with fried plantains. (Caution, can be addictive.) 
Photo from Gringo in Paradise blog.

The peas are a little puzzling, but ham is very popular in the Yucatan. Check out the deli selection at the Isla Mujeres grocery store on the town square. Ham, and more ham.

Of the various unusual egg dishes you will see on the breakfast menus in Isla Mujeres, Huevos Motulenos are the most uniquely Yucatecan. They originated in the  town of Motul, Yucatan, 40 km/25 miles east of Merida. 
I have had an excellent version at Amigo's on Hidalgo (the pedestrian street).  
Alexia & Geovanny's Loncheria by the Mercado on the back street of Abasolo is a popular place to order them.
Here is a recipe for them.
Huevo's Motulenos from Rolandi's on Hidalgo (Photograph by  Diane Daniel).
Bucanero's Huevos Motulenos with "IslaDeb's" comment "Very good"

Both photos taken at Poc Chuc Loncherias
This photo was taken at Alexia & Geovanny's Loncheria in front of the Mercado.
From Tacos Tumbro's Loncheria on Abasolo by the Mercado In Isla Mujeres, Photo by IslaDeb
These were made by IslaDeb and here is her step by step post about making them. She said they were tasty but a lot of work.
At her blog this summer, IslaZina recommended the Huevo's Motulenos in colonia La Gloria at Carolina's for 35 pesos. (They are ~45 pesos in town, usually).
Huevos Motulenos at the town of Motul, Yucatan, at the Mirador.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mayan Soul Food & Mukbil Pollo: A Tamale To Die For . . . . In Isla Mujeres Where "Day of the Dead" Is Called Hanal Pixan & Lasts a Week

Hanal Pixan is usually translated as "food for the souls", and stems from ancient Mayan traditions that predate the arrival of the Spanish. It is observed more traditionally in rural pueblos than it is in urban areas.
In Isla Mujeres, families celebrate the holiday privately in their homes and at the cemeteries, and publicly in the plazas and at their family businesses. All around the Yucatan peninsula, you will see altars (ofrendas) in the airports and restaurants, as well as in homes, honoring the deceased (los difuntos) with 'offerings' of candles, foods, beverages, photographs and personal items. Tissue paper and marigolds (cempas├║chil ) are used as decorations. Relatives are remembered in stories, songs, poems, and prayers, and their lives are celebrated with parades, dances, feasts, and contests.
Copal incense
 There are concerns that Halloween is replacing this holiday.

Altar or "Ofrenda" In Isla Mujeres
The Hanal Pixan ceremonies combine Mayan and Christian elements, involving altars specifically designed to honor departed  family members, bringing relatives closer to each other and to their familial histories. If I were to compare it to an American holiday, I would say it is more similar to Thanksgiving or Veteran's Day, than to Halloween.  Some consider the departed to be attracted by the aromas, the candlelight, and the attention devoted to them. It is a time to celebrate their lives while strengthening bonds within families and communities.
November first is dedicated to the Angelitos, the souls of children, also called los Pixanitos. Their altars are filled with toys, candies, chocolates, pastries, and honey. There are seasonal fruits and vegetables topped with salt, lemon and chili. Favorite foods of the departed children are featured. Traditional toys, hand carved from wood, include tops (trompas), carts and "kimbombas",  a stick-bat with a peg-'ball', use to play a game similar to baseball.
At left are candies made by a local woman for this holiday from pumpkin, papaya, yucca, sweet potato, coconut, meringue,peanuts,marzipan and squash seeds; as well as sugary sculptures in the shapes of skulls, tombs, and monks.

Dia de los Muertos, the second of November, is dedicated to adults, the Pixano'ob, whose altars are adorned with their portraits, favorite foods, and may include cigarettes and alcohol.Water is always included for thirsty souls.

The primary dish related to Hanal Pixan is Muk-bil Pollo, which  means chicken cooked underground. Pollo means chicken, and "Muk" in Mayan means something buried. These over sized, baked tamales are made with chicken, stewed pork, and black beans, flavored with achiote & spices, wrapped in corn dough (masa) and banana leaves, then roasted in a pit. A cooking pit in Mayan is called a pib which is why dishes cooked by this method are called pibils, such as cochinita pibil.
Mucbil chickenThe tamales are called pibis and this time of year is called the Season of the Pibis. In Isla Mujeres, this dish is also called "pibi pollo" and may include hard boiled egg. They are larger and weightier than ordinary tamales and may resemble a pan of cornbread with a filling, rather than your usual tubular tamale. Gringos sometime complain about the generous amount of masa.
 You can buy them from the tamale sellers at the Magana ferry dock, and there are often vendors in the streets, plazas and markets, at the end of October and the first week of November. They might be on the specials boards at the cocina economicas and loncherias. 
Isla vendor, yesterday.(SIPSE)
In Isla Mujeres, they are prepared in the pibil pits, as well as in the special ovens used for baking breads and pizzas.

Women from the countryside travel to Isla to earn money selling this traditional dish that is difficult to prepare. In the pueblos, preparations begin days in advance. The corn kernels are removed from the cobs and taken to be ground into masa, and the espelon (black) beans are shucked from their pods.  
In Isla Mujeres, where there are no milpas, housewives purchase the masa and black beans. Lard is removed from the pork meat in advance and prepared with spices.The meats are stewed with oregano, garlic, onion, chiles, and epazote until the broth is concentrated. The meat broth is added to the masa until the correct consistency is achieved, with Achiote paste, pork lard, chiles, and spices, then diluted with oil to attain the correct texture. This mixture of masa, liquid, fat, and spices is called "kol".   While the kol is prepared by the most experienced cooks, families pitch in to clean the roasted banana leaves, knead the masa, and mold the chicken, pork, and beans.   
Slices of tomato and onion are added with epazote leaves and covered with thick kol liquid. More of the masa dough is placed on top. The tamales are wrapped in banana leaf and tied, using the thick ribs of the leaves as string.

 Meanwhile, the men gather wood and stones and prepare the pit and fire until the stones are hot as coals.The tamales, or pibis, are carefully placed into the pit or pib. A metal shield is added and covered with henequen sacks, then topped with dirt, until no smoke can escape. They are cooked for about two hours and the first pibis are placed on the altars. Families recite prayers and then enjoy this delightful dish with hot chocolate, atole nuevo, sacha, or balche. (Balche is an ancient Mayan drink made with tree bark and sacha is a white watery corn drink. Atole is a common Yucatan beverage made by toasting masa on a comal or griddle, and adding cinnamon tea sweetened with raw sugar. It may be flavored with vanilla or chocolate. Masa is made from dried corn that is ground while wet after being treated with mineral lime, and is also used to make tortillas.)
Isla Municipal Building Oct 2010
From today's newspaper (SIPSE)
In Isla Mujeres, families file into the cemeteries to spend the night celebrating with their loved ones by grooming and decorating their graves, praying, lighting candles, while sharing memories and food. This is a private celebration by the community. There are public activities in the town square that tourists are encouraged to enjoy, including poetry, food, and an altar contest. Sometimes there is a small parade, and there may be a dance. Last year there was a "Catrina Contest" for girls that was a type of beauty contest. Bars sponsor Halloween parties with Dia de los Muertos decorations. Cultures traditionally blend together in Mexico.
Calaveras In Isla Mujeres
On Hidalgo, the pedestrian street in Isla Mujeres, the kids practice a local version of  "Trick or Treat", which lasts several days, when they seem excited at the chance to participate in this American holiday for kids, featuring facepaint and freebies. Foreigners who are aware of this custom begin their evenings by stocking their pockets and purses with candy or small toys, sold cheaply in bulk bags at local groceries for pinatas. Regular visitors may bring toys from home, while many people hand out pesos or wave them away with an exchange of smiles.
Isla photo instead of Treat by German blogger
Catrina on Rueda Medina.
 Some foreigners are very vocal in their criticism of this blending of cultures, claiming it will lead to child beggars in the streets of Isla, displaying a lack of awareness about Mayan attitudes and culture; and forgetting that Halloween is celebrated as "Beggar's Night" in parts of the US, where we are delighted to see children at our doors "begging for candy". Islenos have politely asked me to help them understand this foreign custom where children go knocking on stranger's doors after dark, playfully threatening mischief if not given treats. Each year a few more kids ring our doorbell, often sporting minimal costuming with mixed attitudes of enthusiasm and uncertainty. Luchador masks, and skull face paint are popular with the boys, while the girls usually opt for something feminine. They are generally a small group, accompanied by an older relative.  Some expats and other foreigners enjoy donning costumes, having a go at  "Reverse Trick or Treating", then attending small Halloween parties in homes & businesses.
            There is usually an Hanal Pixan celebration at the mainland area of Isla Mujeres that welcomes tourists. It is held at the ruin called El Meco with a candlelight ceremony performed by Mayan shamans, followed by women serving small pibes of Mucbil Pollo with hot chocolate to a crowd of about 200 people.
About a week later, families pray and feast in their homes again,  symbolically bidding their loved ones farewell. This second celebration is called "Bix".

Here is my post about Day of the Dead in Isla Mujeres (link) & Dead Bread, Catrinas, & Calaveras

 As you enjoy this beautiful slideshow about Dia de los Muertos, you will notice that you probably understand most of the Spanish, since this professional video is designed as a diversion ('a flight of fancy') for a beginning Spanish class.
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