Emma wanted to learn some of the traditional cooking methods used by the Mayans so she went out to spend the day with a local guide called Luis. Luis is part of a large Mayan family who have always been in San Juan. The family have inherited land down through the generations and so they have a plot of land with 4 houses on for about 15 family members. Luis has just managed to build his own 3 bed house with the latest mod cons like tiled walls and floors, kitchen sinks, filtered water on tap etc! Out here, it costs around $20,000 (USD) to build a basic bungalow like this. While the house is under construction, no tax is due to be paid for it – so most people leave their houses here unfinished!
Luis came to meet Emma in the morning and they walked into town to buy all the ingredients at the local market. The recipe for the day was chicken pepian – a tomato and sesame sauce based casserole. Hot spices are not really popular in this part of the country which surprised us. The average wage here is about £1.50 an hour and you can buy enough food to feed a family of 10 for about £10. Most people live below the poverty line and meat is a luxury, with chicken and eggs being the most affordable. There are so many vegetables here that we don’t recognise and they don’t really have English names!
In the market there were giant vegetables! Here is a picture of a carrot next to Emma’s sunglasses for size comparison. Check out the giant cabbages behind too!
After buying everything in the market, we headed over to the family home where Emma met Luis’s mum and sister who would be doing most of the teaching (in Spanish). The family speak a Mayan language called Kaqchikel although they understand Spanish. Luckily Luis speaks fluent English so there wasn’t much of a problem. They let Emma do all of the preparation with instruction so that she could really get ‘hands on’. Locals here view tourists as very lazy and incapable because they are only seen walking around on mobile phones and going to restaurants so they were surprised that we cook most of our own food while staying out here.
Everything was cooked with a traditional wood burning stove and we had a local style concrete sink/wash area for cleaning and preparation. Everything is basic and the only luxuries we used were the blender and the gas stove for cooking the rice. In the photos you can see the ladies wearing traditional Mayan clothes which have patterns specific to tribes and even families.
We started by roasting sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds in a pan and then tomatoes and peppers separately. This was combined into a blender with water to make a delicious sauce. We chopped up lots of vegetables and boiled these in a giant pan with salt. When the vegetables were soft, we transferred these to a holding bowl and then added some chopped up chicken into the boiling water. We added the sauce and let this simmer for about half an hour and added some chopped potatoes. While this was happening, we boiled up the rice and we paid a visit to the local weaving cooperation up the road!
The fabrics here are incredible and everything is handwoven from cotton. The cotton is picked and dyed by hand using various leaves, flowers and herbs for the different colours. They are stained in permanently using banana tree sap! The woman form cooperatives which allow them to work at home and watch over their children and sell in a central store. It is normal for a woman to spend 6 hours a day weaving!
After buying an amazing shawl in the store, we returned to check on the dinner. Bertha (Luis’s sister) tried to teach Emma how to make tortillas from corn flour but after she dropped 3 on the floor she decided to watch. At least the chickens ate well that day!
Emma ate with the family who were so friendly and welcoming it was a shame to leave them when the meal was finished. The chicken pepian was absolutely delicious and it is definitely a meal we shall make at home!