ON our Nine-day Culinary Tour to the Yucatan and Quintana Roo…
After two days in Tulum, we headed inland to Valladolid, in the heart of the Yucatan, where time stands still.
Transportation from Tulum to Valladolid proved challenging. Or affordable private transportation I should say. If you request a shuttle service, they are usually coming from Cancun, and the costs start upwards of $300 USD for a group of 6. An aside: the ADO buses are very comfortable and affordable, and I highly recommend using that! But for this tour, I was using private transport. So I reached out to a local whom I was told owned/drove taxis, and sure enough, one phone call later, we had our transport to Valladolid, for the affordable rate of $130 USD.
One and half hours later, a straight shot through a landscape that was as flat as a pressed tortilla, we arrived at our guesthouse, Casa Hamaca. Valladolid is a quintessential colonial Yucatecan town, cathedrals dotting the streets, plazas filled with ornate benches and young lovebirds. Decorative archways frame wooden doors, and brightly painted stucco covers the rough stone and mortar walls of the houses. Narrow cobbled sidewalks lead you from one street to another, where old men sit in the doorways of their houses, greeting folks as they walk by, and young school children pass on their way home, batting each other on the head in the universal sign of a crush.
Our first morning in Valladolid we woke up to an amazing breakfast of eggs, guacamole, fried plantain, fresh fruit, coffee and cakes. We had a few activities on our plate today; a cooking class and a tour of a local apiary.
Our cooking class was led by the women who cook daily at the guesthouse. We decided to learn to make tamales as that was something none of us had made before. The women were well-prepared, having headed to market in the morning to buy the ingredients: banana leaves, fresh corn masa (oh, how I long for that!), pulled pork and shredded chicken, fresh beans, achiote paste, pork fat, and summer squash and onions for a vegetarian filling.
After our hands-on class, we spent an hour strolling around town, returning to enjoy the fruits of our labor – tamales with pulled pork and chicken, vegetable-filled tamales and tamales with fresh beans.
After loading on sunscreen and filling water bottles, we walked the few blocks to Xkopek (we learned the name means “naughty dog”), a local apiary that raises sacred Mayan stingless bees, the melipona bees.
I had selected this apiary based on its proximity to our guesthouse and the ease of communication with Jorge, our guide and member of the family that owns the land. But the experience we had there was far richer than I could have ever imagined. Jorge led us through his grandparent’s land on this 45 minute tour. He talked about Mayan culture and beliefs, the decline of the honey bees, the importance of preserving these bees and the products they use from the bees. After our tour we tasted the honey, propolis and pollen. It was incredible. The melipona honey was so delicate and floral, like a fine wine. We all bought some before leaving. A late dinner at Taberna sated us (especially the grilled watermelon appetizer and cocktails). That day stands out in my mind as one of the best.
We were headed to Isla Mujeres the next day, and fell asleep that night, content. We explored the local market early the next morning with Denis, owner of Casa Hamaca, where we loaded out bags with fresh mango, mocajetes, vanilla and hot sauce.
After visits to the impressive Ek Balam ruins (my favorite of the tour; not crowded and you can climb on them – all 106 steps!), the mystical Samula cenote and Mayapan tequileria, we headed to Isla Mujeres, about 3 hours door to door including the ferry ride.
Ingredients for any type of Tamales:
Banana Leaves – remove from stem and wipe clean, about 10” square pieces
Masa for Tamales
Method for all tamales:
Mix masa according to directions. It should feel like soft clay. Wrap the maseca in the banana leaf, folding and gently pressing the masa into shape and making sure the banana leaf can fold over and be tucked under to prevent masa from escaping.
Set water on to boil in a large roasting pan or large stock pot. Set tamales on a rack or in colander so water does not touch the tamales, and steam, covered, for about 40 minute until tamale is done.
Vegetarian stuffed squash tamales
3-6 large patty pan or summer squash (harder than zucchini, but softer than butternut), seeds removed, diced and steamed with a bit of salt until just soft.
2 cups diced onions
10 roma tomatoes, diced, and seeds removed
150 g raw pepitas (about 1/2 cup)
Heat oil in skillet and saute onion and tomato until soft, about 15 min.
Add steamed squash, pepitas and salt and pepper to taste. Take ball of masa and place on clean banana leaf. Form into a canoe shape, lifting sides so that filling stays in. Fill with about 3 tbsp of filling and seal masa. Fold in banana leaf and steam as directed above.