To the unknowing eye, they appear as simple, purple spring onions. Upon deeper observation, you’ll take note of peculiar details which make these onions unique. Smaller in size, with a long, green stalk, the “cebollitas de Ixil” 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 community where the name of the onions stems from.
Ixil (the place of bristling), is a small municipality located 45 minutes from Mérida and dedicated to agriculture. The history of this unique product in Yucatán began with the arrival of the Spanish, who brought the Creole onions, and they began to grow, adapting to the local conditions. The techniques of the wise, Maya ancestors along with the red soil of the region resulted in this onion with the sweet flavor. It accompanies several important regional dishes, like “Poc-chuc,” “Frijol con Puerco” (beans with pork), and “ibes” (local beans). It is also used in “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 hereditary, which means that you can’t buy them, and that they have been handed down generation after generation. As well, the cultivation process takes over six months, beginning in the first days of November with the seedbed requiring 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. If you’re thinking about going to Ixil for your onions (from Mérida take the Conkal-Chicxulub highway), be on the lookout for Doña Tere, a lovely Mestiza who has her stand in the entrance of the market with the onions for sale (only in May and June).
You can use the onions for a special meal. How about Father’s Day, with Poc-chuc or any other cut of meat? Or you can prepare them with vinegar, carrots, salt, and oregano in Escabeche (pickled), to enjoy all year round. Ready to try some?
- Mercado de Ixil (May – June) and in Slow Food Market, Mérida
- For jars of pickled onions, check on FB: U-Qux Uleu
Editorial by Violeta H. Cantarell
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