Editor’s Note: Locals are what makes Loco Gringo special. We love to share the people, culture, and traditions that make the Riviera Maya unique. This is the first of a regular postcard series from Chef Mario Canul of Los Dos Cooking School. Here, he tells about his first visit to a legendary Merida restaurant.
On an early Sunday morning in 1995 with all the exciting energy of youth, we decided to “see our aunt.” That’s what we called Merida’s central market, “Lucas de Galvez,” located in the city’s historic district.
I had experienced other markets before visiting Lucas de Galvez. But they were always in villages or little towns inside the state. I was blown away by the size and how lively the market was before dawn — on a Sunday no less.
Among the bustling stalls, there was one where people prefer to sit and eat. There, Cecilio, one of the energetic waiters, welcomed us with, “Pasele primo!” which means, “Come on in, cousin!”
Cecilio led us to the stall’s tiny, wood stools and asked us what we wanted to order. On the menu were two of the most traditional foods in the Yucatan – cochinita pibil and lechon al horno.
Lechon al horno is served in tacos using real corn tortillas. The “tortas” are half-cut baguette bread that locals call “Frances,” which references our French influence.
I ordered the “torta de Cochinita especial.” The special is a cochinita sandwich with just meat and no fat. However, if you want to be “traditional,” you can get a regular one with the fat. This sandwich is considered to be a hangover food. That is why so many people come here so early. Most of these “early-bird” clients are, in fact, night creatures.
The smoky flavor is in the meat, but you can also find it in the bread too. The flavor comes from a specific kind of wood we use in this area, “Boox Catzin,” which is a white Catzin. This flavor combination is a mouthwatering sensation.
The sandwiches and tacos are also served with a few, savory surprises. For example, the powdered pepper adds an acidic yet spicy flavor to the meat. Purple pickled onions are mixed with sour orange juice, chopped cilantro, and habanero pepper. The result from the mixture of these ingredients is small things that add up to considerable flavors.
That was my first experience at Taquería La Tía. Time has passed, and I am still a loyal customer or a “nephew.”
Like me, the local people and visitors to Merida have enjoyed the vision of the founder, Don Rafael Flores Fernandez in La Taqueria La Tia for the past 47 years. The restaurant has maintained the consistency of flavors and recipes in his delicious and fantastic cochinita pibil and lechon al horno.
Unfortunately, Fernandez passed away 25 years ago. But his legend lives on because his wife has continued the tradition and has guided her sons and family members in the business. They sell an average of 350 sandwiches during the weekdays and up to 600 tortas per day on the weekends.
Stop by La Taqueria La Tia and taste the tradition for yourself. After your belly is full, walk around Merida and explore the sights and sounds of the city.
Photos courtesy of Mario Jiminez.