In Merida’s historical center, a new museum demonstrates the ancient ways of the Yucatan kitchen.
A replica of a small Mayan village is open to visitors who can witness a “pibero” dig up pots with Yucatecan mainstays such as relleno negro, escabeche, lechón al horno and cochinita pibil.
Nearby, an attractive restaurant serves those same dishes, among others.
This is all part of the Museo de la Gastronomía Yucateca, or Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy, and it opened just a few days ago.
Already, foreign and national tourists have discovered the museum. For local visitors, the museum is perhaps paying homage to grandmother’s kitchen.
Already response on social media has been favorable.
“The food is excellent, they have been opened for four days and it’s promising,” wrote one visitor. “The ambiance is easygoing, the dining area is well lit even at night, the seats are comfortable and the service is excellent. The prices are low for what you get, the food is to die for. It’s located at the heart of Merida’s cultural district and there’s a convenient public parking spot across the street and it’s relatively inexpensive. This has been one of the best restaurants I’ve been in Merida and it’s highly recommended.”
“To be in this room is an experience, which allows us to know the way in which the Mayan people were fed before the Spanish conquest, based on the cultivation of corn, pumpkin and beans, as well as chili,” explained Mayo Ponce Laviad.
Ponce worked with CICY researchers to present a list of the properties of 13 key ingredients, including the “ib” or the ibes, which is a variety of bean cultivated in Yucatan 3,000 years ago. The habanero pepper, the famous “maxitos” and pumpkin seeds, or pepita de calabaza, are also on that list.
The seeds can be touched by visitors, who will encounter them arranged in clay containers called jicaras. They will also watch meals wrapped in aromatic leaves over burning stones, or over charcoal, for a characteristic smoky flavor.
According to city historian Gonzalo Navarrete Muñoz, in pre-Hispanic times, the Maya of the region consumed chaya or makulan, jicama and sweet potato, They were also fed corn, beans and squash, and on exceptional occasions they completed their diet with animals that they hunted, such as turkey, wild boar, chicken, partridge and duck.
In this space there is also a screening room in which a documentary on Mayan gastronomy is shown daily. The film makes the case that chilies and koles, such as those used for tamales, and pibes or the tasty stuffed cheese, are the soul of Yucatecan cuisine.
“When the Spaniards arrived, some elements of the Mayan cuisine were adopted, and in some cases they substituted some of their ingredients, adding pork or beef, while in other cases, the Mayans adopted Spanish dishes but adding elements of the region,” a tour guide explained, leading guests into a kitchen reconstructed with anafres and charcoal like those that existed in the houses of the Paseo de Montejo at the beginning of the 20th century. Utensils of the time included egg beaters, hand-cranked mills and wooden tortilla makers.
Before visiting the Mayan village, which is located at the corner of a beautiful casona built during the city’s golden era, visitors will see the restaurant and a gift shop where souvenirs connected to Yucatecan cuisine are available for purchase.
The museum, at Calle 62 #466 between 55 and 57, Merida, is open daily from noon to 11 p.m. Facebook.
With information from Punto Medio