Sitting here in Connecticut, I found myself actually emailing a certain bar proprietor down in Mérida, asking him if he had Angostura bitters. As I’ve noted before, my cocktail of choice is the Rob Roy, and the admittedly more appropriate-to-the-region margaritas are just not cutting it as a pre-dinner aperitif. I’m not a beer drinker, either. The proprietor had been advertising his cocktail menu on Facebook, so the question was not too out-of-the-blue. He replied that no, he had no bitters, but he will email me when and if he gets his hands on some. A new, very chichi bar in the tourist district promised Manhattans on the menu, and listed Angostura bitters as an ingredient. I could barely believe my eyes. But when I ordered one they admitted they had no bitters and suggested a splash of Campari instead. Not the same thing at all, but I was polite about it and drank it anyway. I hate to waste liquor.
Paul and I even seriously contemplated, just for a hot minute, packing a carton of bitters into our luggage and distributing them to our friends and favorite watering holes, just so they could make my drink. Such is my story of not adjusting to the local cuisine, at least the liquid cuisine.
This mal-adjustment works the other way, too. I’m all talk and little action when it comes to cooking Yucatecan food, which I really love when it’s executed well. I keep putting off making pollo pibil. Every recipe I read is slightly different, but you basically marinade chicken parts in sour orange and achiote overnight, then bake long and slow in banana leaves. Rather than trusting a Google recipe, I’ll draw from A Yucatecan Kitchen by Loretta Scott Miller (2004, Pelican Publishing). All the necessary ingredients are available locally but one, the epazote. (I may use recao instead because it looks similar and has an identical function. Any readers out there have precisely a week to stop me if this will ruin the entire dish.) I finally made it to a Hispanic-centric market in town to get my achiote paste and banana leaves, but I completely overlooked the sour orange for the marinade. One recipe I found online says you can approximate the sour orange by mixing sweet orange juice with vinegar. I’m skeptical.
It doesn’t help that the West Coast hogs all the Yucatecans who emigrated to the U.S. The demand for pibil or panuchos is practically non-existent in these parts. So I have to construct any Yucatecan flavor (metaphorically and otherwise) when I’m half-way between trips to Mérida, like I am right now. We were in Merida seven weeks ago, and yep, in another six we’re back in the White City.
I grabbed a bottle of El Yucateco hot sauce from the local market today. It’s the one thing in any local shops that I’ve found to come from Yucatán. I rarely use hot sauce; the last bottle I bought lingered on my refrigerator door for years. But something about the label called out to me. The presence of this little bottle will actually help keep me in the proper spirit until the mid-August trip.
As I write this, I realize something: A Rob Roy on the rocks would actually pair well with pollo pibil. A Rob Roy is like a Manhattan, but with Scotch instead of bourbon. Just add a dash of bitters and a splash of dry vermouth, toss in some ice, and you’ve got the best old-school cocktail on the planet. The depth of flavor from the achiote would naturally go with a good beer, but it would take a really hearty red wine to complement the dish. I recommend the smoky bite of a Rob Roy, and don’t forget the Maraschino cherry for garnish.
Oh shoot. Do I have to start asking the bartenders in Mérida if they have Maraschino cherries? Oh wait, yes they do. Another chichi bar in the Centro attempted to serve me Rob Roys on the last trip. The first one came with about equal parts vermouth and Scotch. When it was time for “the other half,” we explained with clarity and patience how the next drink should be portioned. The next drink, however, was identical to the first: An overly sweet concoction, topped with a cherry. I left a note to myself: I should blog about how I should adapt to local traditions, and get used to beer or tequila. This is that post. But it didn’t turn out that way. I’ll trade hamburgers for panuchos, but I’m kicking and screaming when it comes to my cocktails.