Monday, May 28, 2012

Janalo’ob of the Yucatan

One of the great pleasures of house sitting in a new place is trying the local cuisine.  Food varies greatly from region to region in Mexico and Yucatecan cuisine, in particular the Mayan dishes, offer their own unique ingredients and distinct flavors.  So what’s janalo’ob? It’s the Mayan word for food.  

We discovered the main reason food in the Yucatan is so different from other parts of Mexico has to do with the geography of the area. Until the mid-50's, the Yucatan peninsula was difficult to reach.  Mountains and poor roads kept the peninsula isolated from the rest of Mexico. The port cities of the Yucatan had more contact with New Orleans, Cuba, France, Spain and other parts of Europe, influencing their food choices. One of the major differences is the food is not as hot with spices as we’ve found in other areas of Mexico.

Another defining influence is the locally grown foods like Chaya, a leafy green used in everything from drinks to dips.  There’s also a popular meat marinade based on sour orange juice, called pibil.  Use of the sour orange probably originated from the Seville oranges of Spain, arriving here with the Conquistadors.

Cochinita Pibil, our personal favorite so far, is pork  marinated in achiote paste, (from the annatto seed), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, and salt.  Wrapped in banana leaves and baked, it’s served piping hot with pickled red onions, black beans, rice and tortillas. Add a couple of cervezas and it’s a meal to die for.  The only difficulty we have with Mayan food is ordering it.  It's just not easy to say "I'd like some Ya'ach'bil with my Tikin xic and ch'ujuko'ob".

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