Bienvenidos a Los Dos: Yucatecan Cooking School, Merida, Mexico

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Mark Bittman Bites: Sampling Mérida’s “street eats” with Chef David Sterling
Mark Bittman
30 December, 2007 – RENOWNED NEW YORK TIMES FOOD COLUMNIST, cookbook author and television personality, Mark Bittman, recently spent a week in Mérida on his quest for The Best Recipes in the World. His adventures were reported in his column "The Minimalist" in The New York Times.
Early one Sunday morning, I welcomed Mark at Los Dos, and accompanied by a sound technician the two of us headed out to the streets to discuss Yucatecan cuisine and Mayan ingredients, and most important of all, to sample the dazzling array of street foods that are available in Mérida every weekend.

Our first stop was Parque Santa Lucia, where I introduced Mark to my friend and colleague, Sabrina Rivera del Río. Sabrina’s beautiful smiling face can be seen here every Sunday, as she prepares authentic Mexican-style (as distinct from Yucatecan) tacos for crowds of adoring fans.

We ordered the usual: one of everything! Today’s selection included taquitos of  chicharron, chorizo and nopales; crispy flautas; and a special Christmas dish: romeritos with mole Poblano. Romeritos is a plant that vaguely resembles rosemary (Spanish: romero) and the dish typically includes dried shrimp although Sabrina’s version featured just the plant and the sweet, chocolatey mole. As we wolfed down this heavenly fare, we listened to the brassy music played every Sunday as local couples dance the paso doble on a small stage in the park.

The next stop was the Plaza Principal, where Mark sampled a couple of typical street snacks: esquites (a cup of corn kernels served with lime juice, cream and chile powder); and marquesitas (a flute-shaped roll of crispy sweet wafer stuffed with grated Edam cheese.) Mark marvelled as the expert vendor carefully poured the batter onto the waffle iron, then rotated it at just the right moment to cook the other side, steam sizzling from between the two plates of the griddle. The critic's review: a tantalizing if non-committal “Interesting.”

Eager to show my guest a real Yucatecan specialty, I invited Mark to sit beneath one of the large red tents that line the square every Sunday, where local families serve up traditional fare. Sunday is tamal day, so we ordered the creamy and delicious tamal colado – a pudding-like Mayan tamal for which the masa is strained, cooked like atole, topped with a tomato-achiote sauce and shredded pork or chicken, then steamed in a banana leaf. Mark had also been eyeing one of the strange black sandwiches so common in Mérida: a French baguette stuffed with savory relleno negro – turkey and meatloaf cooked in charred chile paste known as chilmole.

Hunger was obviously no longer the modus operandi of the adventure – sheer curiosity was.
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