October 02, 2005

Our trip to Yucatan and some first impressions

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/info/learningteaching/rootes/currentprojects/yucatan05/

We left on 8th of July for our round trip to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (see our webpage for more details). We travelled on a circular route through the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo to some of the regions most important cities. You can look at our photos

The themes of our research

We were researching two main themes: what influences can we detect on the traditional Yucatecan cuisine and how food and social status interrelate with the type of food eaten in a region that is marked by income inequality and poverty. The first question related more to influences that we thought important such as for example the historical past e.g. the pre-hispanic Mayan civilisation or the Spanish conquest of Yucatan. We were surprised to hear that none of the locals believed in any influence from the Carribbean, although the use of sugar, banana leaves and cooked bananas and especially the chile habanero (which is thought to come from Havana, Cuba – the jury is still out on this, since we heard some stories that it might as well come from…Java, mispronounced from javanera to habanero) speak against the no-influence hypothesis. We believe many locals were too proud of the Mayan origins of the Yucatecan cuisine to speak of any other potential influence. Also, many people had perhaps never before related one of their own cultural expressions, such as food, to their neighbours' culture.

The relation between social status and food as in second question was visible everywhere. One can eat at a loncheria (a small restaurant on the side of the street), in a touristy restaurant or in a fast food chain. Prices and the desire to relate to a particular type of food determine the choice. In terms of price, locherias charge about 10–15 pesos (0.5–0.75 pounds) for a complete meal whereas tourist/high-end restaurants charge from 60–100 pesos for a main dish. The latter are restaurants that serve local food but without "fat". Moreover, there is a presence of fast food chains; the price ranges from 32–55 pesos for a meal. With a minimum salary of only 50 pesos per day, many people can only afford the first option. Middle and upper class clients storm the fast food outlets and the low-fat restaurants, which have literally exploded in recent years in cities such as Merida (2M inhabitants) and Cancun (700.000 inhabitants). Hence traditional cuisine seems eaten by lower classes. The more wealthy citizens chose touristy/luxurious restaurants and international food chains. This was confirmed by our research and the interviews we had with McDonalds and Burger King outlets there (see the webpage for forthcoming transcriptions of these)

How do you think food and culture are related in your country ? Are there any marked differences ? Do people define themselves by the type of food they eat ? Blog your way…..

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