Southern Mexico. The last culinary region I’m hitting in the land south of the border before I go south of that border.
Too much for Monday? Maybe. My brain hurts today.
While I really loved all that I cooked from northern Mexico, I found the central region to be underwhelming. The chicken was a flop and the mole was not entirely my cuppa either. Looking ahead to the goods in store this week, I think Mexico (or, at least my kitchen skills) will redeem themselves and end on a high note as I focus primarily on two areas of southern Mexican, Oaxaca and the Yucatán, with a tequila surprise thrown in for good measure.
Oaxaca is one of Mexico major gastronomic centers with internationally renowned cuisine. The land of the seven moles (see this neat article about the types), its varied climates and cultures are due to the start and end of its mountain ranges, and as a result, its cuisine is one of the most varied in Mexico. Its cooks heavily depend on local herbs, chiles, corn and its main export, chocolate. Like weather trends, the heat in Mexico’s dishes also increases the further south one travels, and Oaxaca is known for, among other things, its chiles, namely the pasilla and other dishes spicier than I’ve seen of late.
Not only are Oaxacans creative when it comes to its use of fruits and veggies, but also its protein sources. Insects are eaten in the same regularity as meat, and dried shrimp, and Lenten staple in the rest of the country, are eaten year-round.
Moving north-east-ish into the Yucatán (aka Mayan) peninsula, we hit a more tropical climate, which means an entirely different flavor palate, and one more prone to outside influences, namely Caribbean, Dutch, Lebanese and Spanish. According to Serious Eats, achiote, citrus, habaneros, and smoke are the four defining pillars of Mayan cooking, and the signature dish has to be pibil (most likely pork marinated in achiote paste, marinated with citrus and steamed in banana leaves). In fact, many of the Yucatán’s dishes rely on these marinades, a practice that stemmed from a need to preserve food.
Southern Mexico, the whole country, is so gastronomically diverse that it was really hard to narrow it down to a mere four dishes. But I did, skipping over some of the more popular items (no tamales here…sorry…not sorry) and this is what we’re looking at this week: