Usually when I’m wandering around markets in Merida alone I feel a little lost, like I’m often in the way and quite clueless as to what to buy. I usually stay quite safe and buy items that I recognise. This was quite an eye-opening experience.
A highlight for us was trying some of the fresh produce that can be found here. For example, we tasted mysterious looking rambutan fruits, different types of tortillas, cilantro from both Yucatan and Mexico City (of course the local stuff is much better) and fresh marzipan de pepita, which we were able to sample after asking the vendor about the process in which marzipan is made. We also had some of the best vegetarian snacks I’ve tried since being in Merida, polcanes. These are basically fried empanadas made with cornmeal and stuffed with whatever veggies are in season. We also tried a cup of fresh lima – super refreshing in the midday heat of central Merida! We finished our tour at Sorbeteria Colon on the central plaza next to the cathedral. It was great to be able to taste the sweetened sorbet made with the fresh fruit which we just learned about at the market.
Our personal guide, Erin, hails from California, but lives in a very Yucatecan household with her husband and little ones. Her passion for all things food-related is very apparent from the moment you meet her. As a certified Natural Chef with over 10 years of experience in professional kitchens, Erin is the best person to show you around the market stalls of Merida. She is very knowledgeable about the local delicacies and the history of food production in Merida. In particular, her friendships and relationships with the sellers in the markets mean she has a super in-depth understanding of the different fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Our Saturday morning tour started in the Parque San Juan with a brief history of the square and then continues through the maze of streets that lead eventually to Lucas de Galvez market. On the way, Erin told us about the concept of ‘milpa’ which is essentially the agricultural process in which Yucatecan farmers grow produces maize, beans, and squash. However, as Erin explained, milpa is more than just way of farming; it represents relationships between farmers growing their crops sustainably while providing for their families and is a strong essence of Mayan history and the pre-Hispanic diet.
Wandering through the vibrant Lucas de Galvez market is a truly great way to spend a morning. Even better is time spent with a guide who can tell you where the food is from, what it’s used for and it’s best to buy. We tasted delicious coconuts imported from Tabasco and avocados which were brought to market straight from the farm in which they were grown. We bought herbs which are used in the home to ward off bad spirits and fresh fish caught the previous day. The variety is endless and it can be exhausting taking in all the aromas, colours and sounds of vendors advertising their merchandise.
In a city and a state where cuisine is rules by meat-heavy dishes such cochinita, pok-chuk, and pibil, to name a few, it is enjoyably refreshing to be reminded of the ‘roots’ of Mayan cooking and taste some of the more natural flavours of Mexico.
To find out more about Frutas y Verduras or to organise your own tour of Merida’s markets with Erin, visit their website: https://fyvmexico.com/
Frutas y Verduras Plant Food Lovers' Experiences
Written by Harriet Sleath
Photos by Harriet Sleath
MidCity Beat recently had the honour of joining food expert Erin on a Plant Food Lovers Experience tour of Merida. Our tour was part of Frutas y Verduras, a project started by Margret Hefner, whose aim is to provide people with the opportunity to embark on flavor-filled journeys of the healthy, fresh food traditions of Mexican cuisine. Her concept introduces people to independent guides and chefs who wish to share their curiosities and passion for plant foods and provide experiences in which their guests can learn about the cultural and traditional uses of these foods.