I suspect it’s common knowledge that our kids haven’t exactly been the most adventurous eaters to date. Prior to arriving in Mexico I didn’t give too much thought to what we’d be eating here, three meals a day, every day, for six months. I had fond and hazy memories of tortilla chips, guacamole and tequila (hence the hazy memories) from our last trip but I wasn’t convinced this was a great diet for two small children for so long. In fact, I’m pretty sure that even here it’s frowned upon to give small kids tequila.
We have had three houses in Mexico thus far: a teeny apartment in Oaxaca with a truly terrible kitchen; a slightly bigger apartment in Tulum with a slightly better equipped kitchen; and a whopping huge house in Merida with a pretty brilliant kitchen. What interested me was that despite the massive step up in quality of kitchen, we’re still not really eating better than we did in Oaxaca. Cooking basic meals is less of a chore here now as we have been lucky enough to stumble upon a house with a fully equipped kitchen but we either don’t have access to the same foods as at home or my memory of what we were eating has broken entirely. I deliberately didn’t bring my recipe book along with us but I think that may have been an error. I love flicking through it and being reminded of my family’s favourite dishes.
In Oaxaca we had a teeny tiny fold down table with attached benches, which also made eating a slightly uncomfortable event. In Tulum we had a table but only two chairs or a kitchen bench with three stools. So every meal we ate inside, one adult had to stand. We did eat a lot of lunches outside, which was far more pleasant. In Merida we finally have space and a big table. It’s lovely.
In Oaxaca we discovered boxed mac and cheese. Sorry world. In the UK I regularly cook an uber-healthy cauliflower mac and cheese and my kids adore it. In Oaxaca there was no way we could have made this because a) cheese is very different here unless we want to pay a fortune for imported cheeses; b) I didn’t see a single cauliflower in Oaxaca; and c) we didn’t have a blender or an oven dish. By Tulum the kids were done with mac and cheese having had it three whole times in one month. So even though we had a blender and I did spot a cauliflower, we did still didn’t have an oven dish or cheese and the kids weren’t asking for anything resembling mac and cheese. Here in Merida we have a blender and I see cauliflowers in the supermarket all the time, and even cheaper cheese, but for some reason we’re still not making this dish. Instead, this week, I gave in to the begging and let my kids have boxed mac and cheese again. Minus points for me. Maybe for SG’s birthday I’ll get around to making the good stuff.
For some reason we rarely see ‘real’ sausages here that aren’t bright green. I kid you not. Bright green. Yes. I don’t know why and don’t plan on finding out. Instead, about once every ten days we eat frankfurters and quick cook noodles. Minus points again. I will insist on noting that we always have veg with it: for SB that’s a raw carrot, for SG, a tin of sweetcorn and us, whatever veg we fancy as we’re actually healthy normal people. This meal is a massive win with the kids. We ALWAYS discuss that we’re eating sausages like cousin G enjoys and we now cut them the way he likes too rather than the way I normally do it. The frankfurters themselves aren’t too gross but the combination depresses me even if I have discovered that I quite like quick cook noodles. This meal has been a constant since Oaxaca too.
Omelettes are a win. Or at least they were a win with both kids. Now they’re entirely hit and miss with SG but still a big win for SB. Again with the carrots and sweetcorn. SB has to have plain, SG, with cheese if she’s eating them.
What else? We have lots of picky meals – chuck fridge contents on table and see what happens. Or, if I’m feeling responsible, make the kids a plate of stuff from what I find lying around: sandwich, peanuts, carrot/cucumber/sweetcorn/olives, fruit.
In Tulum we added a couple more serious wins to our repertoire: spaghetti and meatballs and lovely quality burgers with rice and veg. The kids adore meatballs and although they’re pretty pricey here, actually they’re so big that I can cut them all in half and double the number we appear to have.
We have also consistently had vague attempts at Mexican meals: refried beans, cooked spring onions, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), veg and sometimes a roast chicken from the little stalls along the road. All this is served with tortillas and is seriously yum.
We’ve had fish once or twice. In Tulum it was easy to buy prepackaged cervice in the supermarket but here we have to trek to the actual market to buy fresher (but honestly, not quite as nice) fish. The lack of variety of fish is surprising. I was imagining being able to find amazing fish here but it’s all white and dull, or a bit of shark. I don’t know if there’s somewhere more interesting to buy fish than the main market but if there is, we haven’t found it yet. We did make a pretty good prawn stir fry yesterday that went down well with everyone actually.
While my parents we here my dad kindly paid for christmas lunch to be catered so we had an amazing tequila turkey (hah!) with everything you can imagine. That was seriously good. They also brought out a christmas pudding so we had that, much to SB’s delight (he loves it so much he demanded it for his birthday last June!). And my mum discovered that the local butcher has perfect meat for schnitzel so she made that twice, which was freaking awesome except it turns out the kids DO like it so rudely guzzled down as much as the adults. They’ve gone now so I need to persuade Col that he wants to make schnitzel for me too.
I assumed that once we had a decent kitchen we’d return to decent cooking but it doesn’t really seem to have happened like that and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s true we don’t have quite the variety that’s available in the UK. If we had an unlimited budget and didn’t mind travelling to the north of the city we could get pretty much everything we have at home but we don’t and we don’t! Also, a lot of it is from the USA so is not quite as healthy as the UK versions. For example, we bought a US imported ‘pure’ peanut butter. At home this means nothing but peanuts. In the US it also includes palm oil, sugar and other stuff too. Pretty gross and disappointing.
We decided to try meal planning, like we do at home, to see if it helps us regain a cooking spark. This is week one. We’ll see how it pans out. The list isn’t very exciting yet: omelettes, baked potatoes, spag bol, a Mexican night. Oh, and tomorrow we said the kids can have pizza as it’s their first day at school. It’s so hot here that we don’t really want too much heavy, hot food, which knocks out a lot of our repertoire immediately. We also can’t do our weekly sushi night as although seaweed and soy sauce are easy to find, good raw salmon isn’t.
I think I’ll try and do a Mexican cookery lesson. We did one years ago but it was super high end and so entirely un-replicable at home. The cooking classes we were given at our Spanish school in Oaxaca were fun but we were never given the recipes. Also, although we’re lucky enough to have a massive gas cooker, there’s actually relatively little control over the stove and the oven itself is really weak.
Today I bought muffin ingredients so we’ll see how they cook. We struggled to find baking powder (pulvo del horno in case you’re interested), partly because we weren’t looking in the right place but also because the baking section of the supermarket is horrifically made up of packets of cake mixture just like in the USA. I know the results are fine but it seems wrong to just open a packet, add water and bake. I hope I can get back in to baking: my kids love it when I make muffins and cereal bars, they see it as a real treat to have these for breakfast (and they’re so much better than cereal or toast). Maybe baking is my way back in to proper cooking.
Ooooh, but we did find reasonably priced tofu the other day so I shall serve that little gem up at some point soon. The kids will be super excited. Seriously. I know. They freaking love that stuff.
If anyone has any tried and tested recipes for cooking when it’s hot and ingredients are somewhat limited, please do share. I’ll happily report back on any suggestions.