To the unknowing eye, they appear as simple, purple spring onions. Upon closer observation, you’ll take note of peculiar details which make these Yucatecan onions unique. Smaller in size, with a long, green stalk, “Cebollitas de Ixil (little Ixil onions)” have a much sweeter taste, due to the characteristics of the soil where they are planted as well as the tender, patient touch of the families that produce them in the village that gives these onions their name: Ixil (pronounced ee-sheel, Maya for “the place of bristling”), a small municipality located 45 minutes from Mérida and dedicated to growing vegetables like radishes, cilantro, tomatoes, and the famous Cebollitas de Ixil.
The history of this unique product in Yucatán began with the arrival of the Spaniards, who brought Creole onions that started adapting to the local conditions. The agricultural techniques of the Maya people, along with the red soil of the region resulted in this sweet-flavored onions. They’re used to dress up several important regional dishes, like “Poc-chuc,” “Frijol con Puerco” (beans with pork), and “iibes” (white beans). It is also used in ( En Escabeche) to accompany meats, eggs, and practically whatever dish you can imagine!
The production is limited to several families in Ixil. Partly because the seeds are family heirlooms, which means that you can’t buy them: they have been handed down generation after generation. There are around eight families who continue to grow Cebollitas de Ixil, which they combine with other crops such as radishes and cilantro to help support themselves while it’s time to harvest the onions.
That’s the other factor that limits their production: the cultivation process takes over six months, beginning in the first days of November, when the seedbed requires careful and constant watering. Then, in January, the farmers transplant each plant (bulb), and finally harvest the onions between May and June.
You can buy the leaves, bulbs, and onions by the bunch, especially at the Ixil market, but also occasionally in Mérida, especially in markets (never at the supermarket).
At the end of January, you’ll find bunches of leaves, as the bulbs will still be too small. Once you’re in the market, don’t be afraid to ask for tips and ideas on how to prepare them; Doña Tere, a lovely lady there, patiently explained how to make the leaves with eggs for a different kind of breakfast. I ended up buying two bunches of leaves, and it was a delicious combination for sure.
By the time you read this, beginning in the middle of May, Cebollitas should be available already. This is a great time to buy your onions and try them with a special occasion meal, like Mother’s or Father’s day, for example. How about Poc-Chuc (or a steak) with grilled onions? You could also try pickling them in vinegar, carrots, salt, and oregano to make Escabeche, so you can enjoy your Cebollitas all year round. Are you ready to give them a shot?
- Mercado de Ixil (May – June), in Mérida’s traditional markets, and the sustainable markets (Slow Food Market and Riqueza Local) on Saturdays.
Editorial by Violeta H. Cantarell
Born in Mérida, Violeta is a communicologist dedicated to writing and creating content on tourism, fashion, and entrepreneurship. She has recently started working as an English-Spanish translator.
Photography by Come México, and Comalca Gourmet for its use in Yucatán Today.
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