SISAL IS A FORMER SPANISH colony on the north-western tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It’s a poor place. A lost place. But definitely not a lonely place.
We pulled in at midnight after a five hour car trip across the peninsula with friends. They wanted to introduce us to their home. We wanted to see it. The moon had risen and was casting its glow across the lagoon where the fresh water from the cenotes mixes with the sea. We unpacked our overnight bags and fell into bed in a twelve-dollar-a-night hotel and slept like the dead.
In the grey light of pre-dawn we dragged ourselves from slumber in anticipation of a sunrise glimpse of Mexican-pink flamingos, preferably while we nursed steaming mugs of local coffee. Little did I know my day would go all Anthony Bourdain and I would end up in the kitchen of my host’s great aunt where I would learn recipes carefully guarded and handed down from mother to daughter to wide-eyed traveler.
I relished that day with its Spanish immersion with Mona and Tia Ligia amid sizzling Yucatán pumpkin and shrimp and fresh tomatoes and chilies and bacon and crab purchased at the market and conch and octopus ceviche and achiote paste and epazote and soft noodles and light-as-air meringue. I will never forget it. A connection. A few hours with family I just met. Not my family, but my family. Because in those moments, they became my family. Because, as I left late that afternoon Tia Ligia gripped my hands and insisted in her sweet broken English, “This is your home. This is your home!”
I hope to go back someday, although it is a long trip through miles of scrub jungle and marsh. Not to mention far, far off the grid. I fell in love that day. And I am sure if you had been there you would understand.
This is the place.
Thank you, Mona, for teaching me how to make meringue and introducing me to your iguana. And thank you, Tia, for inviting me into your heart.
Closely guarded and hailed as the Yucatan’s own version of this classic French dessert.
6 egg whites
2 cups organic sugar (ivory colored)
Slice of lime rind the size of a quarter
2 drops lime juice
11 soup spoons water
1. Add water and lime rind to sugar and bring to a boil until it rolls into a ball on your fingers after being dropped into cold water (soft ball stage).
2. Add 2 drops lime juice. This makes the meringue bright white.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
4. Pour sugar syrup in one steady stream into egg white while turning the bowl and beat until thick and stiff.
5. At this stage the meringue makes a velvety smooth frosting for cakes and cookies.
6. If desired, spoon onto cookie sheet and cook until glassy and dry.