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Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’

Mérida



Yucatán. Mérida. Describing this city after spending only 5 days there would be doing it a disservice. One can’t presume that they will comprehend an entire culture, a way of life, a region of an even larger and more diverse country unless they’ve spent the better part of their life there.

I had first heard of Mérida, rather embarrassingly, about 6 years ago as a junior in college, drunkenly watching Tivoed episodes of House Hunters International late at night. I was coming off of a three month solo trip through Europe the Summer before and had a ridiculously unquenchable thirst for information on anything remotely resembling what I experienced there. It was the Spanish influence that originally made me want to travel to Mérida. After finally going there, for however short a time, its everything but the Spanish influences that make me want desperately to go back.

Instead, it is the people, the food and the history that make Mérida, and Yucatán in general, the place it is, the place that is indescribable. Our first night in town, staying at The Hacienda San Pedro Nohpat, was an interesting, if not strange, way to begin the trip. At the Hacienda, which is located a good 25 minutes outside of Mérida itself, my girlfriend and I spent the night speaking Spanglish, sharing beers and whiskey, and experiencing a side of Mérida that not a lot people see, with a Congressman from the area who happened to be staying there for some R&R. The Congressman was an embodiment of Mérida itself: unique, big-hearted, honest, inviting and passionate. It was he who bought us our first meal, Panuchos, and introduced us to a broader understanding of Yucatán living.

Panuchos

As a huge fan of pork I had set my culinary sites on two dishes in particular that are inherent to the Yucatán region, Poc Chuc and Cochinitas Pibil. Also, a soup called Sopa de Lima (lime soup).

The first restaurant experience we had was just down the street from the small center of the village, Kanasin. Mind you, this is the center of the village that Hacienda San Pedro Nohpat was in, not the Centro Historico of Mérida. The restaurant was La Susana Internacional. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, to try and describe the ride on a small motor bike taxi in the darkness of night to the restaurant is impossible. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I can’t articulate my feelings in any other way. At La Susana we had Poc Chuc Tacos and Sopa de Lima.

Sopa de Lima and Poc Chuc tacos

The next day we traveled by taxi, which only cost about about 200 pesos for 45 kilometers, to Progreso Beach, directly north of Mérida. To me, the beach was not very different than beaches in other countries, if there was a giant Wings on every corner you could have just as easily been in North Carolina or Nassau. This was where I first felt like an outsider. As a 6’1″ tall Romanian I fit in just fine in Europe and other countries, but as untanned gringos, my girlfriend and I stuck right out. To compact the situation, the addition of drunken college-age kids pestering us to take a photo with them so they could “have it for facebook, a picture with the gringos”, didn’t help. My girlfriend and a few other expats who were on the beach saw the humor in it, I did not. An asshole is an asshole in any country you go to. This isn’t all to say that Progreso is a bad spot. Its great. The sun was out, the water was cool, the beers at Buddy’s Bar were cold. There sure are a lot of Canadian expats…

Playa Progreso

The next restaurant we tried was Hacienda Teya. The food, atmosphere and location were all great and I recommend it to anyone going to Mérida.

Pork SausageRice and Fried Plantaine
Cochinitas Pibil
Cheese and ground pork

Our last night at the Hacienda we ventured out into the area around us and picked up some snacks from the stands that were preparing for the bullfight the next day. I can honestly say it was the greatest deep fried hotdog I’d ever had in my life.

Deep fried hotdogs and fries
Churros

At this point I’d like to explain what kind of experience you have when staying at the Hacienda San Pedro Nohpat. First, all of the reviews you may read online are completely accurate, and then some. The owner/operators of the Hacienda are an open-minded, understanding and laid-back-to-the-point-of-reclining type of people. For our last two nights we were the only guests and our hosts made us feel more than at home. I can say with 100% confidence that we will be back. They even let us have free reign of the kitchen and bar, as long as we were honest about what we took. At 25 pesos a beer, it wasn’t hard to be honest.

One of about 100 pictures I could use to show you the beauty of the Hacienda

After our stay at the Hacienda we spent 2 days in the Centro at Hotel Medio Mundo. The hotel’s location was great, it was just far enough away from the Centro Historico to feel like you had your own slice of Mérida all to yourself. From here we went on a few adventures and tried some good food.

Cenote San Ignacio in Chochola

Tacos from a stand in the Centro

Food stands in the Centro

Cochinitas round 2… or 3…

A cerveza, a tequila and a great view of the Centro

The Ballet performing in the middle of the city. For everyone. For Free.

The Hotel MedioMundo, Calle 55

Mérida, like any other city in the world, will show you as much about itself as you allow it to. Much like looking into a mirror you see only what you want, when you want. The stark contrasts of privilege and poverty, complicated and simple, anxiety and total calm are as abundant in Mérida as they are elsewhere in Mexico. In a city where one night, strolling through town, I feel the total and utter disassociation from everything around me I crave so much, only to have it all reversed the very next night by a boatload of tourists corralled in and out of shops full of factory produced knick-knacks and t-shirts and perpetuating the bad travel behaviors attributed to Americans. My short travels in Yucatán were just that, too short, but the impact they had on me will never be unfelt.

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Well, it can’t really be described in one post, let alone one blog or even one dissertation, but Rachel Laudan, a food historian and anthropologist, examines what Culinary Heritage means to a culture and its history, as well as where it is headed.

Intangible cultural heritage is designed to induce economic development, particularly tourism.

She described how she was with UNESCO in Cuba in the 1980s when the economy was at a particularly low state. That, and the fact that income from tourism formed the largest part of GNP in a significant number of the world’s countries, made her and other officials at UNESCO rethink the idea that development depended on material resources such minerals or agricultural land. Economic development could also follow from promoting a country’s cultural heritage.

At first this meant identifying important buildings or groups of buildings or natural features (Havana, Guanajuato where I used to live, Yosemite etc.). These “patrimonios de la humanidad” don’t seem to me to have a huge amount of visibility in the United States but they certainly do in Mexico and many other countries. I’ve never seen any figures on whether they increase tourism but clearly they are widely believed to do so.

Next step. Tourists don’t want just monuments, natural or manmade, they want experiences. Hence UNESCO decided to set up this other category of immaterial cultural heritage. Gloria Lopez repeated several times that the culture in question was not to be limited to (or perhaps not even to include) European-style high culture, Goethe being one example she gave. It was to emphasize dance, folk art, and even cuisine. Here’s a list of already-approved immaterial heritages at the UNESCO site

I should mention that Rachel is actually citing a speech made by Gloria Lopez, however Rachel examines these topics on an almost daily basis on her blog, which I’m sure I will be citing myself often in the future.

I like the concept of examining food as another tourist experience. Just like many other tourist spots, food and culinary heritage can be ruined by too many outsiders trying to get “the real experience” or visit something exciting, but not too exciting, and Mexican food is a perfect example. one needs only to go to the nearest Mexican restaurant in America to find this out for themselves… Not to say that Taco-Burrito Hut is a bad thing, especially at 3 in the morning on a Friday or Saturday…

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