29 March 2016

REVIEW - Josefina's Concina Con Alma - An Authentic Mexican Cooking Class

Location: San Miguel de Cozumel, San Miguel, Q.R., Mexico
Let me start by saying that I absolutely LOVE Mexican food.  
Not the calorie-laden, cheese heavy, greasy, soggy stuff found in countless Mexican restaurants across Canada and the USA, but "authentic and traditional" Mexican cooking. Subtle flavours made with ground herbs & spices, mixed with the freshest fruits, vegetables, fishes and meats - all combined to create complex layered taste sensations, each mouthful designed to delight the senses. 

UNESCO recognizes the uniqueness of Mexican Cuisine.
Mexican cuisine was listed in 2010 by UNESCO for its "Cultural Intangible Heritage", gaining recognition for traditional dishes that retain the names, ingredients and cooking practices dating back to the pre-Hispanic era and incorporating influences and contributions from other cultures. Like the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and other world wonders, Mexican food with its indigenous influences received serious recognition and to date, is the First and Only international cuisine to obtain the status.

The guys were planning to SCUBA dive most days, so my Italian-British friend Rosa and I decided to enroll in real Mexican cooking instruction. I began searching for a course that would teach us traditional Mexican recipes, not the touristy "salsa, guacamole and margarita" classes that dozens upon dozens of cruise ship passengers flock to attend. 

I found the website of Emily,  The Cozumel Chef. One of the many services Emily offers is Josefina's Concina Con Alma - Kitchen with "Soul" This is a "Mexican" cooking school held in Josefina's home. Josefina was a language teacher for 35 years in Veracruz, Mexico City and Cozumel. After retiring from teaching a friend convinced her to begin giving cooking classes. Her goal is to rescue the old recipes from the kitchens of their mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Classes are small and include a trip to the local market to select fresh ingredients. I quickly contacted Emily and made arrangements for us to attend.

Josefina's home is located on Calle 3 sur, several blocks away from the hustle & bustle of downtown San Miguel. A tiny, bright blue home with a red door welcomes you. We arrived a few minutes early and managed to enjoy some quiet time in the garden area - beautiful flowers, fresh herbs, mango, banana and sour orange trees.


Our three to four hour class would begin with a trip to the local market to select fresh fruit, vegetables and protein (we opted to prepare a fish dish made with fresh grouper). The market is a wonderful place filled with locals doing their daily shopping. It opens early and closes by 2 p.m. so is bustling with activity. Fish and meat hanging, chickens being butchered, meals being prepared (either to be consumed later at home or at one of the lunch counters).

With our shopping done, we made another quick stop at a tortilla factory, where the ladies insisted that we sample the hot tortillas sprinkled with salt. Delicious.

Josefina quickly outlined the many dishes that we would learn how to prepare - starting with Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus flower water), Achiote Sauce (which is the base for many famous Mayan dishes including Tikin'xic (fish)), corn tortillas, fried nopales (cactus which we would learn how to clean the spines off), guacamole, mango & cucumber salad, Mexican squash with gouda, and xikil-pak (pumpkin seed dip - a legacy of the Mayan civilization). 

To finish off this feast we would prepare (and sip) fresh margaritas! We quickly understood why Josefina had three women assisting her. We would do some of the prep work for the menu, but the majority of the cooking would be done by these ladies.

A fascinating and educational day, finished off with a feast and a tasty margarita. If you ever find yourself in Cozumel, I would highly recommend spending a few hours with Josefina!

I'd like to thank Emily of Cozumel Chef for making it possible for me to attend this class

I am grateful to Josefina for exposing me to some wonderful Mexican cuisine and local culture and for providing a peek into her ancient Mayan heritage and culture as well. 

All opinions and impressions are mine ...

                                                                                                            ... Wry reporting

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TEAM: LOAF, Crumby, Wry & Crusty