Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beans In Isla Mujeres:Black Bean Soup & Smoky Charros Especial

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Beans! Frijoles!  ("FREE   HOLE  ayzzzzz!")
    Black beans are the beans of choice in Isla Mujeres. Whenever I cook up a pot of another type of bean and share them with my best friend, she invariably remarks how much she and her family enjoy "other" beans and says they oughta eat them more often. I send some home with her, and she reports her family made the same comment. Which makes me grin, since it happens every time. When I eat at their house, I can count on getting some tasty black beans.
     The other unusual thing, to my foreign notions, is the liquidness of  the beans in Isla. Sometimes it looks like you are being served the bean pot water. There is a surprising amount of flavor in that puree, which is lighter on your stomach, leaving room for the entree. At breakfast your beans may be served in a small bowl, like a tasty sauce. When I 
 decline mayo on tortas, I am offered beans as a substitute, as a paste smeared onto the bread, adding moisture and flavor to the sandwich. Mmmm, better!
    When you order a bowl of bean soup,  you will probably get a hearty dish. La Lomita restaurant is known for its bean soup. As with many local dishes, the garnishes are an important element. Their version of sopa de frijoles includes rice. Their toppings 
 vary, but alway include herbs, lime, and cheese. Both of these pictures are from La Lomita, which is located on Juarez, across from the Naval base. 

At Fayne's on Hidalgo, their menu says: 
"Sopa de Frijol: Cream of black beans with a shot of flaming tequila added at the last minute and strips of tortilla".
    Epazote is an herb that is commonly used to season beans, with the additional benefit of reducing their flatulent effect. You will see it growing in containers outside many Isla kitchens. It has a weedy appearance and a unique, wonderful flavor. It is available online as a dried herb, or sold in markets patronized by people from Latin America and the Caribbean.
And then there's Charro Beans!
Medinas Taqueria on Hidalgo are known for their Beans, and especially their "Frijoles Especial". Their beans are "Estilo Charro" (Charro style) which are pinto beans in a smoky sauce. In Texas they are also called Ranch Style, and menus may call them Cowboy Beans. Medina's most popular item is their pork "Pastor". For their Frijoles Especial, this delightfully charred, moist, marinated pork is sliced from the spit when ordered, added to their charro beans and topped with cheese. The garnishes and sauces are pictured here. 
I have heard that Monchi's has charro beans worth trying, with a good, smokey flavor, which they offer with pastor meat for another ten pesos. They are on the east coastal road south of Mango Cafe and they deliver.
I would recommend you try the bean soup or charros when they are  featured on the specials boards at loncherias and cocina economicas.

 Cocina economicas are small, family-run restaurants that feature home made daily specials, that usually include your beverage, at very affordable price. The beverages are usually homemade "aguas", like horchata or jamaica. They are patronized by locals and tourists alike, offering hearty, authentic local food in an intimate atmosphere. The handful of 
 tables are usually in what would be a living room, with the kitchen nearby, in sight. Women do the cooking and serving, usually family members. You may share a long table, and your fellow diners might wish you a happy meal by saying, "Buen provecho".  Downtown options include Susanita's on Juarez and La Negrita on 
 Allende. Juarez is the one way street between Main and Hidalgo, which is the pedestrian street. Allende is a short east-west street. 
Cocina economicas are loncherias that feature daily specials, with shorter hours and a less extensive menu, usually. The main meal of the day is eaten in the afternoon, and that is their focus.

  Downtown, the best known loncherias are 
Poc Chuc on Juarez at  Abasolo, pictured here.....

and the four restaurants that are side by side in front of the mercado, which is on the back street. 
They are Alexia & Geovanny, San Martin, Poc Chuc, and Tacos Tumbras .  The one across the street is currently closed.There are more loncherias inside the mercado.
Alexia & Geovanny, Left End of row.
Poc Chuc, Middle Right

Tacos Tumbras, Right End of row
San Martin, Middle left.

Sopa de frijoles negros = Black Bean Soup at the Mercado (Mexican Market) In Isla Mujeres
Charros=Ranch or Cowboy style (Pinto beans)
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Xtabentun: Stingless bees, Sacred Quests, & a Slut

Xtabentun is pronounced  
"Ish   tah   ben  TOON"
It is produced in the Yucatan with a rich history drawn from Mayan traditions and myths. It is a sweet liqueur made from honey, fortified with rum or other alcohol,  and flavored with anise.
Anise is a member of the parsley family and its seeds have a licorice flavor. It is a European plant, grown since colonial times, which native Mexicans use to treat gastrointestinal disorders.
Xtabentun may be classified as a mead or an anisette, and is commonly called a "digestivo" for its ability to settle the stomach after a meal.
Because of the rum content, Xtabentún liqueur is sometimes called a "distilled honey beverage", which is misleading, because the honey alcohol is fermented, not distilled.
It has a pale yellow or green color and a creamy anise flavor, with strong honey after tones. It is very pleasant in moderation, with a rich sweetness that precludes overindulgence.

 It may be served cold straight up or over ice and is sipped.  
 Mixed with a shot of tequila and fresh lime, it becomes a "Mayan margarita". 
 You create "Mayan Coffee" by adding a shot to of Xtabentun to that beverage. Some add cinnamon, cocoa, or cream. Mayan coffee can be an elaborate concoction that involves flames, gravy boats, ladles and multiple waiters, done as performance art for tourists, as described here. The glass at left is made with coffee, Xtabentun, brandy, ice cream and ground cinnamon, laced with crystallized sugar and orange. A shot of Kahlua with a shot of Xtabentun is called a "Mayan Kiss".
Before Carlos Aristi began standardizing  production in 1937, Xtabentun was made from a special honey usually produced in September, when bees gathered nectar from the "Xtabentun flower". This type of morning glory is known as the Christmas vine, or in Spanish as "Manto de la Virgen" and in Nahuatl as Ololiúqui; while its botanical name is Turbina corymbosa. In Cuba it blooms from December to February. It produces copious amounts of nectar, that can create a pale, clear, aromatic honey that is highly prized, and considered medicinal. Traditionally, Mayan beekeepers tended
  stingless bees called meliponines in wooden logs, who are nearing extinction in the Yucatan. Their honey was originally used to make Xtabentun liqueur, but they have been replaced by other types of bees. When nylon made the sisal industry obsolete and caused the collapse of Yucatan haciendas, Carlos Aristi began making Xtabentun to save his farm, using honey that was available year round. Production of Xtabentun honey from morning glories and its use in the liqueur died out.
The seeds of the morning glory known as the "Xtabentun flower" or "Ololiúqui" contain LSA, a compound that is similar to LSD, both of which were analyzed by  Albert Hofmann
This is a 16th century statue of Aztec statue of Xochipilli, unearthed from the side of the volcano in the mid 19th century. The statue and base are covered in carvings of sacred and psychoactive plants, which include Ololiúqui (Turbina corymbosa), as well as  mushrooms (Psilocybe aztecorum), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), and  sinicuichi (Heimia salicifolia). Hofmann and others suggest the statue portrays an altered state of spiritual ecstasy, representative of shamanistic practices associated with these plants. The Nahuatl word ololiuhqui means "round thing", and refers to the small, brown, oval seeds of this morning glory. It has been suggested that honey from these flowers also had psychoactive qualities.
Mostly it is an ornamental plant, also known as Rivea corymbosa. The Nahuatl word for the plant means "snake plant" and refers to its climbing abilities. In Mayan "Xtabentun" is said to mean "flower that grows on stone" which refers to its being a vine.

Xtabentun is named for the legend of a "loose" woman named Xtabay (or Xkeban)
The name comes from a Mayan legend about two women from the same village who were born on the same day: Xtabay, who was called Xkeban which means prostitute, and Utz-Colel, who represents a decent honest  woman.
  Xtabay lived a lusty life, giving generously to the poor, compassionately helping anyone and offering  herself freely to men. She was humble in the face of humiliations from the other villagers and cared for abandoned animals. Utz-Colel was prideful, cold, correct, virtuous and haughty, acting superior and helping no one.
When Xtabay died alone, her true nature was revealed by the sweet-smelling flowers that grew on her grave. This enraged Utz-Colel, who said it was a demonic trick to lure men to harm. The sweet nectar gathered from the  white blooms on her grave by stingless bees was said to produce honey with special qualities. Some claimed it was an aphrodisiac. The blossoms were named for her: "Xtabentun flowers", as was the succulent, seductive honey their abundant nectar produced.
 When Utz-Colel died, the entire village attended her funeral. They were surprised by the foul odor escaping from her grave, coming from a spiny cactus called tzacam, whose nauseating aroma repulsed anyone who came near. 
Utz-Colel was beside herself with anger and asked the gods to send her back. She returned to the land of the living disguised as Xtabay, living her life freely, as she never had before.
The legend says she waits in the jungle for an unsuspecting man to come along. She sits by a young green ceiba, the Mayan sacred tree, combing her hair with a cactus, and men who are tempted will never again be seen.

You can find Xtabentun liqueur at Specs and other large liquor stores. It is exported to Germany, Spain, and the United States, with plans for exportation to China. While only eight percent of it is exported, overall sales have increased 40% since 2008. Reports say most of it is bought by foreign visitors, and interest has increased in recent years. This is Jabon de Xtabentun,  which is soap that sells online for 35 pesos.

The Big Apple

This cocktail is served annually at the Taste of NY event
2 oz Hudson Valley Whiskey Manhattan Rye
0.25 oz Xtabentun (Mayan anise liqueur)
1.5 oz  empire apple juice
1.5 oz spiced syrup
0.75 oz fresh lime juice
3 dashes Peychauds bitters
Add all the ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and grate some fresh nutmeg atop.
Then visit my Drunken Spanish post to learn how to toast like a Mexican! 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pescado Tikin Xik or Annatto Marinated Grilled Fish

Pescado Tikin Xik or 
Anchiote Marinated Grilled Fish
This is a traditional Mayan dish which is made with recado rojo, which is also used to prepare cochinita pibil (and pollo pibil). It is a mildly spiced paste made from achiote seeds and the juice of bitter orange, called naranja agria.  
Annatto (English),  
Ku'u up (Maya),  
Achiote (Spanish)
The name derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, achiotl.
Native to Mexico, now grown in many countries for its great taste and natural coloring qualities. 

 This is an achiote blossom with immature pods below it.
In Isla Mujeres achiote is sold in the Mexican mercado in bulk (On Guerrero, the back street), at the Super market on the town square, at Mertitas on Juarez, and in most grocery stores in the colonias. It is also sold at the airport, in markets that serve people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and online. Its flavor is subtle and not hot, despite its fiery color.

Sour Seville Orange is an important ingredient in Yucatan's cuisine 
Seville Orange(English),    
Su'uts' pak'aal (Maya),
 Naranja-Agria (Spanish).
Green (mostly) with a thick bumpy skin and many seeds, it is often used in sauces and marinades, and tastes like a combination of lime and orange. If it is unavailable, many recipes suggest using orange juice and vinegar, but a better substitution than vinegar is lime juice, or grapefruit juice. Mix a half cup of naranja agria juice with a half cup of achiote (120 ml package) and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.

You can add Yucatan or Mexican oregano, which are available online, roasted crushed garlic & allspice.

Achiote liquid (recado rojo) at Playa Lancheros. It is mopped onto the fish before grilling.
Amberjack Tikin Xic in Isla Mujeres
Tikin in Mayan means "dry" and Xik means "wing", which refers to the way the fish is butterflied and spread open. Use a mild white fish like amberjack, snapper, or grouper. It may be cooked atop banana leaves, or wrapped inside them, if they are used. Unlike the pibil dishes, tikin xik is not cooked in a pit, but rather it is grilled and smoked over a wood or charcoal fire for  ~half an hour. In Isla Mujeres, this tool for cooking and flipping it is custom made. This BBQ is at MaraVilla Caribe, which was inaugurated with this "mega fish". Our friends' young daughter eagerly asked if she could have an eye, and her parents reminded her to be polite, "There's only two, you know." Which was enough, and she said "Mmmmm!" and they all laughed at my attempt to keep a poker face. Serve with lime wedges, rice, cabbage, and warm corn tortillas.

Red Snapper Tikin Xik at Playa Lancheros in photo by Holly
The most popular place to eat this specialty is Playa Lancheros Casa del Tikin Xik who have been preparing it for decades. They are on the west coast, south of the traffic circle by Sac Bajo. They open at noon and close around 6 pm or dusk. ~$8/order serves two.
Playa Lancheros Tikin Chik & "Doug"
Tasty guacamole at Playa Lancheros, which is always a good idea with this fish, since it takes about a half an hour, which gives you time to enjoy the breezes, amazing view, and a cold beverage in the shade. (~$3.50)
Grouper Tikin Xic, cooked in banana leaf, In Isla Mujeres.
Tikin Xik on the beach after visiting the whale sharks with Ceviche Tours. Whale shark season resumes in May, and they do other tours. It is often featured at buffets of boat tours.
"Wayne" and Tikin Xik In Isla Mujeres whose blog tells about visiting Isla in the 70's before Cancun was developed so he flew into Merida. This post tells about flying from Austin for $150 RT airfare in 2009. (That airline went out of business shortly thereafter, and was running specials. It was great while it lasted, and they are missed.) One reason this is so good, is the fish is usually very fresh, and having your toes in the sand makes it even better.