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Feasting Through Mexico

By Lora Arduser · October 17th, 2007 · The Nosh Pit
Many people say that to immerse yourself in a culture you have to immerse yourself in its food.

In a former life as a field archaeologist I did just that. I spent a summer working in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico at a site called Sayil. My boss (or Heffa), who was one of my professors, decided that we should drive to our summer work site -- all 1,300 miles.

I had no idea my discoveries would lead to more than the ruins of Mayan kings that my crew chief Florenzo and his crew uncovered as they cut swaths through the thick jungle with machetes. (I stood behind my compass shouting izquierda! (left) or derecha! (right) to keep them on course.)

As we embarked on our journey, my fellow students and I careened down mountain roads in a rattle-y green jeep trying to keep up with our leader and his wife, Pilar, who was Columbian and the only one fluent in Spanish.

(We could have used her in our vehicle when we tried to explain our U-turn in phrases from high school Spanish class and hand signals to an army officer with a gun). After hours on the road with few bathroom breaks (traveling with Heffa was a lot like traveling with dad), we'd slam into the city streets of Tampico or Veracruz running on pure exhaustion. But then as we settled our meal of fresh fish a la Veracruzana -- a sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers and chilies -- tension and exhaustion would magically lift.

When we finally arrived at our summer rental home in the village of Ticul, Pilar filled us with sweet breads and hot coffee in the morning to prepare for a day of high caloric expenditure. She'd pack avocado sandwiches and little bottles of Coke into the coolers we sat on for lunch in the field and serve hearty stews with bottles and bottles of Superior and Leon, local beers, when we tromped home a sweaty mess.

On the weekends we would relax at local restaurants and feast on cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish marinated then cooked in a banana leaf and stacks of fresh corn tortillas.

I'll tell you about our end-of-season party, the journey home and the best cup of coffee in Mexico in a future column.

CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: larduser(at)citybeat.com



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