As you may have already noticed, Yucatecan cuisine is an internationally recognized treasure and local cooking classes in schools, homes and villages have flourished in the last few years with visitors hungry (pardon the pun) to learn the secrets behind all those wonderful dishes. When the time comes to return home, the question comes up: can I take some of these unique spices, sauces and condiments home with me? Can I recreate these flavors at home?
Nowadays, many unique, local ingredients are available in supermarkets internationally. I can personally recall being amazed when, while waiting for a ferry in British Columbia, I popped into a tiny grocery store and saw El Yucateco brand habanero sauce on the shelf! Gone are the days when you can surprise loved ones with something unique from Yucatán for their kitchen. Even banana leaves for your tamales and Mukbilpollos can be found at Asian food stores!
In our previously published article on recados you learned that these flavorful pastes are essential to preparing dishes like Cochinita and Pollo Pibil, Tikin Xic, Relleno Negro, Escabeche and more. The burnt-red achiote (annatto seed) paste, together with sour orange juice, will be the key to making your Cochinita at home in Montreal, München or Miami while the smoky black spiced Recado Negro rubbed on your turkey or dissolved in your chicken stock is essential for creating the signature Yucatán Relleno Negro.
Can you take Recados back home?
The answer is a resounding… maybe. If you stick to commercial brands with real labels and hermetically sealed, the answer is yes, you should have no problem if you store it in your checked luggage. But let’s face it: there’s nothing like buying a homemade version from a vendor at one of our local markets, who will be happy to explain the best way to use it. Traveling internationally with said home-made version, though… well, that might turn out to be a challenge.
Finding a plastic bag with a colorful paste among your dirty laundry will immediately attract the attention of the customs agent and his canine counterpart, who might rightfully suspect an illicit substance. Admit it: it does look kind of suspicious. You can of course try one of the following methods to convince the official of your innocence:
- Making the argument that this is hardly an amount worth risking jail time for and so he/she must believe you when you say it is a food item for personal use.
- Taking a bit on your finger and eating it in front of them to prove that it is an edible and harmless substance.
- Making an impassioned plea appealing to the agent’s love of food and culture and that really, this is a typical ingredient that you must have because it is your cultural heritage and he/she wouldn’t want to infringe upon that now would they – which works only if you look Yucatecan.
For the sake of transparency and staying out of customs purgatory, my suggestion would be to take along the commercial versions as well as some of the homemade Recados and mention it up front when asked if you are bringing in any food items. Canada and the US do allow condiments but prefer the commercial packaged versions. This way you can show the agent the packaged version and its market counterpart, which might help in the convincing. And if the homemade Recado is tragically tossed in the trash, you will still have your commercially packaged one to take home.
By Ralf Hollmann
A Yucatecan born in Germany and raised in Canada, with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Ralf has experience in leisure tourism, journalism, research, editing, writing, and creative writing. He’s also a musician.
Photography by Carlos Rosado, Cecilia García, and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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