I landed in Yucatán on a December evening in the year 2000. I was coming from the Buenos Aires summer and didn’t really feel the Yucatecan winter when I stumbled upon the heat and humidity that embraced me as soon as I stepped off the plane. This is winter? Really? I asked myself and everyone else. Here, a family that I didn’t know welcomed me warmly and with open arms. To keep the story short, I fell in love with a Yucatecan named Alejandro and moved to his hometown. He came to meet me in Argentina, we lived in Buenos Aires for nine months, and after that, we conceived a love that we gave birth to in Mérida. This would become and is now my new home.
But this article is about food, so let’s get to it. Up to that point, I was unaware that the next day at lunchtime, I would have a “religious” experience – one of tradition, family, and Yucatecan culture. 20 years later, I still remember this experience with love, as if it had happened only yesterday.
Alejandro had not seen his parents for two years and it happened to be a Monday. Crucita, Ale’s mom, went out early to shop at the Mercado de La Alemán and returned with all the essentials needed to cook the famous Yucatecan dish designated for Mondays: Frijol con Puerco.
What was that? I didn’t have a clue… At 28 years old, I had only ever had roasted pork, crucified, and staked over a fire – delicious and crispy.
That morning I recall we took a walk through the beautiful Centro Histórico. We returned for lunch, where the magic was already happening in doña Crucita’s kitchen. In the dining room, my father in law sat waiting (and drooling like Pavlov’s dog) for the Frijol con Puerco to be ready.
Alejandro walked into the house and sniffed. “Do you smell that?” he asked. “That’s Frijol con Puerco,” he said in excitement as he sat next to his father. The dishes arrived from the kitchen, piping hot. The two men began to chat and added chopped onion, cilantro, and radish to their deep bowls.
On the table, there were also Habanero peppers – raw, as if they had just been freshly cut from the plant. As my father in law and Ale chatted, they would take bites of the small, green pepper that made them cough, cry, and wipe their runny noses… They didn’t care and kept on talking… I didn’t understand. Did they really like that? They loved it.
My dish was served. From the broth surfaced dark brown pieces of meat, almost black. They swam in a pool of beans that were the same color. As soon as I drove my fork into the meat, it magically fell apart: light, lean, and moist. It practically dissolved in my mouth with an explosion of flavors that were unfamiliar to me at the moment: it was the magic of the Epazote, a noble herb that gives this stew a delicious and special flavor.
Each bite of pork, beans, broth, onion, and radish (I don’t like cilantro) went directly into my mouth. What can I tell you? I devoured it all in record time and even had seconds – a small one, but a second plate nonetheless.
With time, I discovered a number of things: that this dish is ages old, that pigs were sacrificed on Saturdays, and that, due to a lack of refrigeration, the meat was salted and needed to be cooked quickly. I also learned that Mondays were a “lazy” day for cooking because while the men returned to work in the Milpa, women had to complete housework that was left from the weekend (such as doing laundry). So, they cooked Frijol con Puerco because it’s a foolproof dish. You just put everything into the pot and it basically cooks itself.
If I had to describe Frijol con Puerco with one word, I would say it is a “kind” dish. It may not hold first place in Yucatecan gastronomy, but if you make it with love, it will always turn out great. I make it all the time and it never fails. How do I prepare it? I’ll tell you real quick: I boil the beans in salted water with half an onion and a sprig of Epazote. Half an hour later I put a metal spoon into the broth (my mother in law told me that this helps the beans cook quicker). Then, I place the pieces of pork meat in the beans and cover the clay pot while it simmers away on a low heat. The magic takes about an hour or so. How do I know when it’s ready? Because the beans are nice and soft, and the meat tenderly falls apart as soon as you touch it with a fork…
Today, we’re a family of four and we all adore Frijol con Puerco. The love that Crucita put into this dish when she prepared it 20 years ago transcends time and I’ll never forget it. It may be a “lazy person’s meal” since it does not require much effort or exact quantities to be measured out. But I’m sure of one thing: The secret ingredient is a lot of love. And that never fails.
Editorial by Cecilia García Olivieri
Writer and reporter
Photography by MUGY and other sources for its use in Yucatán Today
Keep on reading about Frijol con Puerco:
- Frijol con Puerco (Beans with Pork) Recipe
- An Iconic Recipe: Behind the Scenes in Izamal
- Yucatecan Cuisine
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