Mexican Marquesitas are the wonder of Mérida

Marquesita stall from the street vendor, hand holding 4 marquesitas

Photo: MaElena1 (Getty Images)

Despite the widespread American feel of a country filled with endless beach resorts, tacos and margaritas, Mexico’s culture and culinary traditions are as diverse as its landscape. I’ve hiked the mountains of Puerto Vallarta, the serene coasts of Oaxaca, and the rainforests of Chiapas, but my favorite place is the charming town of Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatan. When I first saw the pale limestone buildings lining the cobbled streets of La Ciudad Blanca (“the white city”, another name for Mérida), I was dazzled. One thing that makes Mérida so special is the way it preserves both the Mayan and Spanish history that make up its Mexican heritage: 18th and 19th century haciendas fill the streets with lush courtyards and Mérida’s 16th century cathedral. , the oldest cathedral in the Americas. The Mayan presence is just as alive, with the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya display thousands of Mayan artifacts; folk dances like the swirling jarana performed in the plazas every Sunday; and the nearby archaeological sites of Dzibilchaltun and Uxmal. But the Mayan influence is undeniably present in the food of Mérida.

With its distinctive characteristics of achiote, habaneros, sour oranges, and smoked stone meats, the flavors of Yucatecan food are distinct and crisp. The cuisine is known throughout the country for its zest and variety, as well as being steeped in Mayan traditions. Cochinita pibil is the star of the region, with pork marinated in achiote paste and sour orange juice, then roasted in banana leaves in an underground pit (pibil). It’s eaten in tacos or on its own with red onions, and it definitely packs a sweet, earthy punch. Another version, which is so delicious that it deserves its own separate column in the future, is tikin-xic, a fish dish prepared in the same way as pork. Even a staple meal like sopa de lima, a chicken broth flavored with Yucatecan limes, becomes bursting with flavor with the addition of grated chicken, fried tortilla strips and lime slices.

So I was already ready to be impressed and ready to binge on Mérida’s cuisine, and I was not wrong. After taking a cooking class given by a finalist in Mexico City Excellent chef and learn how to make sopa de lima and grilled snapper, I explored the city’s sprawling market, Mercado Lucas de Galvez, teeming with spices, peppers, and fresh chicharron vendors, of which Mexico is one of the world’s leading producers. I tasted a lot of memorable foods like cebollas negras (black onions dipped in traditional spices and fried to perfection) and oriental escabeche (grilled turkey with local herbs and sour oranges). But what left the strongest impression was not a meal, it was a snack.

Every Sunday Mérida’s main square turns into a street festival with music, dancers, craft vendors, and so much food that you can taste many specialties from the region just as you walk around. I recognized the cochinita pibil and tamale stalls, but I noticed vendors with what looked like round waffle irons, each of their stalls surrounded by long lines, and I stopped to watch a vendor pour the dough into the mold, roll it up. in a tube once it was crisp, and filled with queso de bola (Edam cheese) and cajeta, a rich caramel made from goat’s milk. It was Mérida’s must-have street food: Marquesita.

Marquesita rolled up and sitting on a waffle iron

Photo: MaElena1 (Getty Images)

I bit into the cone and it was delicately sweet on its own, with hints of vanilla and almond. But the mixture of cheese and caramel inside created a salty, sweet and savory mix that was irresistible. I gobbled it all up and quickly lined up for another. Now I understood why the queues were long. Marquestitas are the perfect street food: portable, with a complex flavor profile that satisfies multiple cravings at once. But what I didn’t understand was how the crunchy pancakes and Dutch cheese ended up in Mérida.

The story goes that during the 1940s, an ice cream vendor was looking for a way to increase his declining sales during the cooler winter months. He experimented with a richer dough than the one he used for the cones, adding milk, vanilla, and almond flavors and stuffing it with different mixes instead of ice cream, including meat and different cheeses. . The most popular combination was the queso de bola and the cajeta, which was favored by the maidens of a wealthy marquess, so he called them marquesitas in their honor.

As for the presence of Dutch cheese in Mexico, the story is unclear, but there are several legends involving either wealthy hacienda owners reporting it from European voyages or a ship heading to the Netherlands Antilles s ‘crush on the Caribbean coast of Mexico and the hard, wax-coated cheese popping up on the beaches of Yucatan. Whatever the origin, Mérida loves cheese. It is used in countless dishes, including queso relleno, a whole wheel of Edam stuffed with pork, nuts and tomatoes and cooked with a hearty sauce. There is even a Queso De Bola fair that started in 2019. I’m just happy that the cheese has arrived to create Marquesitas. You can find them all over the Yucatan, but this treat wouldn’t have become famous without the contributions of Mérida’s inventive and unique cuisine.


About Keith Johnson

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