Thursday 10 December 2015

A holiday in Mexico - Part 2

In this post I am going to write about a trip we took, as part of the prize that Jane won. It was supposed to have been a visit to the Punta Sur eco park, but the weather was not good, so we decided to do a tour of the town of San Miguel de Cozumel instead. Our guide for the day was Yibran Aragon, the husband of Gilda Sigie, the lady who was the organiser of our holiday. He normally works as an underwater photographer, but he was a most amusing guide. Here he is fooling about with the Christmas elf hats at the Municipal Market...

Yibran picked us up at the hotel in his car, and asked us straight away what sort of things we wanted to do and see. Of course we said that we wanted to see Foodie stuff and the sort of things that real local people do, as opposed to the tourists. We discussed the difference between Tourists and Visitors, and agreed that we were definitely Visitors, not Tourists!

First stop therefore was the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market). This is definitely a place where real people go to buy real food ingredients. I bet they don't get many tourists there.

The market is not huge, nor is it particularly picturesque, but it is genuine. It is a place to shop for real local raw ingredients. Here is a selection of photos illustrating the range of food on sale:

The butcher - advertising Beef

A fishmonger (one of several), offering Red Snapper

Herbs and Spices, fresh and dried

Nopales - the leaves of the Prickly Pear cactus

I wish we had bought some of these tiny bananas - we LOVE them!

Habanero chillis

Obviously it was not practical for us to buy much at the market, but we did come away with a few spices and dried chillis, mostly purchased from the stall of this little lady. I say "little" because she can only have been about 4 foot six tall at most!

Chillis, Achiote, Ground Toasted Pumpkin Seed, Ground Allspice, General-purpose seasoning powder.

As well as raw ingredients on sale, there were also stalls selling prepared food, such as this Taqueria, selling tacos, tortillas etc. The man with his back to the camera is frying meat on the plancha or griddle-plate. The containers in the foreground hold a variety of meat, vegetables, condiments etc, which are used for filling the tacos. Customers sit on high stools at the counter to eat their food.

Here is a woman making tortillas for people to cook at home. The "masa" (dough) is in big lumps on the blue tablecloth. The finished tortillas are in plastic bags in the foreground.

Having seen the tortillas being made, Jane and I were insistent that we needed to buy some proper Masa Harina with which to make our own tortillas, so our next stop was at the Bodega Aurrera supermarket. [Note: Masa Harina is a flour made from maize that has been nixtamalised. Tortillas made with ordinary flour always turn out brittle rather than soft.] Unfortunately, this type of flour is very hard to obtain at a good price in the UK. You can get it via online suppliers, but postage is very expensive.

This 1kg bag of flour cost $8.85 = approx. 35p

The supermarket was unremarkable in appearance (a bit like an Aldi maybe?) so I didn't take many photos, but I couldn't resist photographing this fine display of chillis:

And just look at these Avocados - they are huge, and only $17.90 per kilo ($25  = £1). Fellow "Ugly Fruit and Veg" enthusiasts will note that they are not all uniform in shape, size or colour!

Our next stop was at a Garden Centre. They did have some fine plants, but I was particularly impressed by the glazed ceramic pots on offer.

They also had "functional" terracotta-ware for sale:

In amongst the pots we found this...

By the time we had done all this it was lunch-time, and our guide took us to Casa Mission restaurant.

The food here was definitely Mexican, but also definitely a bit up-market. At the suggestion of our host we ate as a starter a simple but intensely flavoursome chicken broth with shredded chicken and rice, accompanied by tasty (and soft!) corn tortillas. This was followed by "Pollo con Relleno Negro" (Chicken in a black chilli sauce - think squid ink...) and "Arrachera de Res" (Skirt steak served beaten and breaded, like a Wiener Schnitzel). We were impressed with both of these, though I found the black sauce a little offputting. I would love to go back to this restaurant to explore more of its extensive menu.

In the grounds of the restaurant was a Tequila museum, showcasing not only the product, but also the traditional manufacturing process. It starts of course with the Agave plant:

Here are the stems of Agave plants being crushed with a stone wheel. In days gone by this would almost certainly have been propelled by a long-suffering donkey.

Here is the still, transforming the fermented Agave juice into alcohol.

And of course the finished product.

Other highlights of San Miguel town included such things as the Ferry Terminal (we came across to Cozumel island on a ferry like the ones seen here).

And the Christmas tree at the foot of the Ferry Pier:

In the main Plaza a Santa Claus tableau was being erected. No reindeer and sleighs here, but boats, waves and dolphins instead!

This is the Coral Fountain on the promenade;

In many places around the town were some amazing works of mural art, like this one at the back of a car-park:

This was a house that caught my eye, standing out amongst the mainly drab boxy concrete shops and dwellings.

A Catholic shrine outside the Market:

A tricycle taxi, powered by a moped:

A horse-drawn carriage, with Tourists taking photos of us Visitors!

An finally, back to the hotel, haven of tranquillity...

This has been a long post, I know, but I have more to show and tell. Tomorrow I am going to write about Flora and Fauna. See you then!


  1. Very interesting posts about Mexico. I am looking forward to the next one.

  2. What a great day out. It certainly helps having someone who's local showing you the area, you get to see what the place is really like rather than seeing the bits which all tourists get to see.

  3. Thanks for sharing your day with us Mark.

  4. I'm enjoying my virtual tour with you as the guide. Thank you!

  5. Wow, I loved this post Mark and so envious of your trip to Mexico, somewhere I would like to adventure one day. The colours - the food market was the star for me. I look forward to seeing what you do with achiote. I have the seeds here and some achiote paste that I am hoping to finish up early next year.

  6. Thanks for letting us come along. Very interesting post, especially about the Tequila. I am not very much into hard liquor and I had no idea what the basic ingredient for Tequila was.
    Great pictures of the markets!

  7. Looks like you had a great time, what an amazing amount of food in all sorts of colours!

  8. Now that is my kind of city tour - it goes to show that it really does pay to get a personal guide, even if it's for only one day. I'll have to remember that the next time we go somewhere exotic.

    We love Mexican food in our house and are very fortunate to have some wonderful Mexican grocers in the Kensington market area of Toronto. They have all of the specialty ingredients such as masa harina, dried chilli (even unusual varieties such as guajillos & pasillas), achiote and piloncillo. I also purchased a metal tortilla press (not expensive at all) that makes the most wonderful tortillas - they are just the right thickness. I'm not much for single purpose gadgets, but this one was well worth the small investment.

  9. www.herbwiseorganicsolutions.com11 December 2015 at 17:55

    Wow! Lost for words!

  10. Ever since seeing your photo of masa harina, I've been thinking about how you, the pepper king, would use it. Fortunately, today I saw this easy recipe for tamales. Tamales are traditionally made at Christmas time in my part of the country. There are vendors in East los Angeles that people return to year after year. I've been making them for my family for many years.

    This is an easy recipe, a bit different from the original. I have not tried but it looks OK.

    Some comments about it.

    First lard tastes wonderful. But oil will work. Have done this. Use a neutral oil. I use canola.

    If you don't have corn husks use aluminum foil to wrap the tamales.

    A vegetable steamer will work. One of the folding up kinds.

    If you use homemade chicken broth it needs to be strong flavored. I have always used chicken bouillon granules, Knorr is the preferred brand. Indeed, it comes in both languages here, Spanish, then English.

    Now for the yum-yum part: the filling and here's where your peppers come in. My favorite fillings are in order of preference: roasted shredded pork shoulder with green chile sauce, roasted shredded beef (you don't need an expensive cut, chuck is good, just cook slow and low) with red chile sauce, and a vegetarian option, melting cheese, roasted green chile strips and corn kernels with green sauce.

    She doesn't mention it, but shows it in the picture, you need lots of sauce to pour over them on your plate, usually it's the same kind as in the filling thinned a bit. I add more chile, too,

    This is really a fun thing to do on a cold, gloomy day. It makes your kitchen warm and comfy and spicy smelling. You can easily freeze the extra.

    1. Here's a recipe for the more traditional method of making the masa wrapping. It includes a meat and a sauce recipe where you can substitute the chiles you have for those listed which are very easily obtainable around here.

    2. Yes, I have seen that website. They have some good recipes. We had a couple of tamales in Cozumel, and I have had them previously here in the UK in a restaurant. They were made in corn husks. Very nice!


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