A visit to Yucatán wouldn’t be complete without tasting one of our local baguettes, known locally as “pan francés” or “barra”. Try the sweet version, with butter and sugar and a delicious coffee, or maybe a “torta” (sandwich) made with one of our traditional dishes like “cochinita pibil” (pork), “relleno negro” or “escabeche” (turkey). Sounds good? Let’s find out about the origin and tradition of this delicious bread, a favorite of Yucatecans.
Our “pan francés” is a soft white baguette, lightly salted, with a very specific flavor imparted by the palm or coconut palm leaf which is wrapped around it during baking. When the palm leaf turns golden, the bread is done. If it doesn’t have this leaf, it is not considered “pan francés”; it is considered a “bolillo”.
You can buy your “barra” for just 4 pesos in bakeries like “El Retorno”, “La Vieja” or in one of the branches of the traditional “Panificadora Montejo”. If you are staying in one of the hotels near the Monumento a la Bandera, you will find a bakery there; go buy your “barra” early in the morning, or in the afternoon, fresh out of the oven.
Today, gas ovens are used in Mérida, but you can still occasionally find bread baked in a firewood oven in the small towns near the city: believe me, you will notice the difference in flavor and consistency.
On the Peninsula, the custom of eating bread began with the arrival of the Spanish; before that, people only ate corn tortillas. In the 1950s the bread-making began as a business, with the first “pan francés”, and it has evolved into a tradition that lasts until today.
The bakeries continue to make the bread by hand, providing employment and benefit to many families. At the same time, they provide unity to the neighborhoods and the people. Try any of the great variety of breads, sweet or savory, that exist in México and in Yucatán.
Because of the low cost, bread has become a food staple for Yucatecans, along with tortillas. Every Sunday you will see families enjoying delicious “cochinita” on a half “barra”; or on a whole one if very hungry! Order your “torta” – on a “barra yucateca”, of course!
If you notice street vendors on tricycles with boxes of sweet and savory bread, clapping or blowing a horn to get your attention, go up to them and buy your bread right there. We also suggest cutting your “barra” open, spread it with butter and sprinkle it with sugar, and bake it until the sugar melts. Accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate, now you are a real Yucatecan!
As you will see…in every important moment, with family, on Sunday, in the afternoons or simply for no reason at all…every occasion is the right one to enjoy a delicious “pan francés”.
By Violeta H. Cantarell
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