By Dame Toria Emas
Five Chicago Dames embarked on a Traditional Mayan Adventure with LDEI Flavors of Mexico. Attending were Dames Susan Syzmanski, Susan Weller, Diane Sokolofski, Antoinette Benjamin (Ann Arbor dual member), Toria Emas and her husband, Bill.
All participants were greeted with delectable warm cheese puffs created by the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Merida. The first gathering was with a Shaman to bless the trip before taking a police-escorted walk alongside “La Danza del Cochino” to La Tradicion restaurant. Chef David Cetina exquisitely presented each delicious course. Chaya-based margaritas helped get the party started. Chaya, a tree spinach, is hyped in the Yucatan the same way kale is in the U.S. Chaya can be found in everything from aqua frescas to empanadas, and the in the masa for tamales. Slightly herbacous it works will in all dishes. Longtime Merida resident, Jeremiah Tower joined Les Dames for dinner and gave his observations about his retirement in Merida.
The next day we traveled to Hacienda Sotuta de Peon to view the manufacturing of rope from the Henequen plant. Once the “Green Gold” of the Yucatan, the fibers aren ow exported worldwide. Instead of a siesta after the tour and more margaritas, many Dames took a dip in the Cenote, a cool clear sink hole on the property while other Dames had a massage and nap in hammocks.
Traditional Mayan cooking takes place underground. We bussed to Pueblo Pibil where Master Pibil Silvio Campos leads his team to preserve the cuisine of the village kitchen. Dames sipped Habanero Margaritas while viewing the cooking process in the pits located next to lovely restaurant garden. The first course was crunchy chaya dough stuffed with lima beans topped with a shrimp flambeed with tequila. The entree was a pumpkin squash stuffed with venison and fruit cooked the traditional way.
On Day Two, Dames could be found at the Regional Market bargaining for items to use while cooking later with indigenous Mayan women at Hacienda Ochil. Breakfast was a tortilla stuffed with an egg cooked over an open fire. Dame Diane Sokolofski was a star as she rolled up her sleeves to wok the masa and chaya for for the banana leaf tamales.
The Mexican Chapter surprised us with marquesitas in front of the hotel before we boarded the bus for the evening event. Marquesitas can be sweet or savory. The batter was cooked on a grill and rolled up like a very thin waffle cone and stuffed with shredded cheese. In Merida’s Plaza Grande, front row chairs were reserved for Les Dames to view the laser show recounting the history of Catedral San Ildefonso. We took a short walk to Las Terrazas del Olimpio overlooking the square where we were joined by the Mayor–the first woman in over 400 years to govern Merida.
Dames checked off Chichen Itza off of their bucket list. Our guides gave us some Mayan history and treated us to very welcome coconut ice cream cones after touring the ruins in the blazing noon sun.
Dame Maria Gomez-Laurens always wants to outdo herself and had handmade Huipil dresses for the Les Dames and for “Les Dudes” Guayabera shirts to wear at the farewell dinner. Carriages took us on a quick tour of Calle Montejo before arriving at Restaurant Kuuk in an old mansion across from the quintessential Mayan sculpture at the end of the boulevard. The eight-course tasting menu featured an updated presentation of traditional Mayan flavors and Yucatan specialities. A highlight was the Rabbit in Plum Pipian Sauce with Lima Beans and Radish.
The Chicago contingent owes many thanks to Les Dames of Mexico for their gracious hospitality and heartfelt enthusiasm. Cheers, also to Jose Cuervo for the generous beverage sponsorship.