We finally arrived in Merida, and the first thing we had to do was a Mexican cooking class. What luck that we found a beautiful boutique hotel offering one.
The Merida Santiago Hotel Boutique
The Merida Santiago Hotel Boutique (they put the adjectives after nouns in Spanish) is a beautiful hotel right in the heart of Merida, Mexico. Located only half a mile from the main bus station, the city center, and the beginning of the famed Paseo del Montejo, it’s the perfect location in the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The hotel opened in 2009, back when luxury boutique hotels in Merida were a new concept. Growing from 2 to 6 rooms, the hotel prides itself on quality over quantity and offers large rooms, a small swimming pool, and a mind-blowing culinary experience with amazing meals and its cooking classes.
We stayed at the Merida Santiago Boutique Hotel for our first night in Merida, which was a blessing with the early start to the cooking class, but also because of how wonderfully comfortable it was. Our spacious room had all the amenities – a TV (which we didn’t use), an espresso maker (which we also didn’t use), a desk for working at (I used that a little), a small (not mini) fridge, a safe, and even a full patio complete with hammock and yoga mat.
The entire hotel staff was super welcoming and friendly. The Dutch owner, Jan, met us as we arrived. We checked in with all the contemporary sanitary measures and were offered delicious welcome drinks.
As we were exhausted after our bus journey from Playa del Carmen (on which the AC wasn’t nearly strong enough), we chose to stay at the hotel for dinner. What a great decision!
I went with the hamburger and Vanesa had the Asian noodles, but just calling them hamburger and noodles seems demeaning. The burger was the best I’ve had in Mexico – perfectly chargrilled and topped with crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pineapple on a homemade bun baked at the hotel. Vanesa’s noodles were similarly fantastic – even the satay sauce was homemade.
A Local Breakfast
For breakfast, we went with the local Mexican cuisine…or at least I did. Vanesa ordered the waffles while I had the huevos motulenos – homemade corn tortillas topped with refried black beans, a fried egg, salsa picante, ham, peas, and cheese, and served with fried plantains. I’ve already had it several times since arriving in Cancun, but this one was by far the best.
Vanesa’s waffles were topped with homemade whipped cream and apple slices. Our breakfast also came with fresh fruit, a selection of homemade baked goods, high-quality coffee and a lemonade drink. It was super filling and Vanesa couldn’t even finish her waffles.
Merida Cooking Class and Market Tour
Our Mexican cooking class started at 9:30 a.m., just after we finished breakfast and packed up our bags. We had two other participants on our tour and the greatest tour guide – Jamil. After quick introductions, we got started.
The tour started off by describing the neighborhood around the Merida Santiago Hotel Boutique. The hotel is just a few yards away from Calle 59a, the road that leads straight to the Gulf of Mexico, making the area a hot spot for merchants over the centuries.
Two streets east of the hotel is Mercado Santiago, the oldest market in the center of Merida. It’s not a large market, but you can get most of your fresh supplies – meat, fruits, vegetables, tortillas, and spices. There are also several stalls for breakfast and lunch dishes, including one of the most prosperous taco stands in the center of Merida.
Jamil gave us an in-depth history of the market, including how his parents and grandparents were vendors at the market. We then were shown how to properly select fruit and vegetables for our dishes, the different corn fours and pastes to use, how to find the best spices, etc. Right from the start, we could tell that Jamil’s culinary knowledge and skills were extensive.
Mercado Santiago is surrounded by some other interesting landmarks, including the city’s oldest cinema (now owned by Cinemex), and Parroquia Santiago Apóstol – a beautiful Catholic church. The park beside the market is nice too, although quite small.
Mexican Cooking Class
Finally, we got into our cooking class. The other two participants were vegetarian and vegan, so our menu for the day was varied. But what a feast it was!
Vanesa and I were tasked to prepare poc-chuc, while the other two made brazo de reina. On the side, we had calabasita fritas and chayitas topped with sikil pak, plus a dish of guacamole and chips, all prepared from scratch. Let me break those down.
Although the Mexican cuisine (and most of Latin American cuisine for that matter) is very meat-based, this was the only dish we made with meat in it. Poc chuc is one of the signature dishes of the Yucatan Peninsula, made with pork marinated in sour orange juice, salt, crushed garlic and oregano, and then chargrilled until tender. It’s often served with a side of beans and rice, pickled onions and avocado.
We crafted ours under the expert direction of Jamil, and then plated it with sides of sikil pak (see below) and caramelized onions, but skipped the beans and rice. We also used Jamil’s “paste for everything” for the marination – black pepper, oregano, cumin, cloves and salt. I’m not always the biggest fan of pork, but this was absolutely delicious.
Brazo de Reina
The vegetarian and vegan made brazo de reina, which translates as “the Queen’s Arm.” This is another local dish similar to tamales. It’s made with fresh corn dough pressed flat. The vegetarian filled hers with hardboiled eggs, and the vegan made his with fried pumpkin, tomato and onions. This was then folded into the tamale shape using a large banana leaf, boiled, and topped with charred tomatoes, onions and garlic sauce.
The next three items were appetizers, but we prepared everything at the same time. The first was calabasita fritas. These are salbutes (thick homemade corn tortillas deep-fried so they puff up) topped with fried pumpkins, pickled onions, queso sopero (white cheese) and avocado.
Chayitas and Sikil Pak
This was yet another local dish, so named from the chaya added to the cornflour paste before frying the tortillas. We topped the tortillas with sikil pak – charred tomatoes and epazote (Mexican-tea) blended with ground pumpkin seeds, salt and cilantro.
You could say this next one wasn’t anything special, but no one really makes guacamole like the Mexicans. First of all, we used a really unique avocado – a lighter green with a watery, buttery flesh. We lightly crushed it with homemade pico de gallo, lime juice and salt. Coupled with homemade chips, guacamole is always the perfect side dish for any Mexican meal.
Tostones for Dessert
Lastly, we made Puerto Rican tostones for our dessert. These are deep-fried mashed plantains. We had ours with papaya sorbet flavored with cloves and cinnamon, although the sorbet was the one thing we didn’t make ourselves – the chefs at Merida Santiago Hotel Boutique had prepared it beforehand.
Summary of Tour Details
- Location: Calle 74-A #499, x 57 y 59-A, Calle 74A, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yucatan
- Starting Time: Every day at 9:30 a.m.
- Tour Length: 4-6 hours
- Number of Participants: 2-6
- Price: $61 USD or pesos with the daily exchange rate through the hotel website
- Phone: (+49) 32 22 109 0195
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: Merida Santiago Hotel Boutique
- What to bring: Comfortable walking shoes and a big appetite, although there isn’t a lot of walking on this tour.
- Also Included:
- Coffee/tea reception
- Limonade or hibiscus flower ice tea drink
- A glass of Mayan liquor Xtabentun
- Everything you cook – appetizer, main dish and dessert
- Available in English and Spanish for all dietary restrictions
More Photos of the Cooking Class
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My adventures in Mexico are just starting, but here are some other articles I’ve written so far while being here.
- My First Impression of Cancun and its Turquoise Beach
- A Basic Guide to Visiting Cancun on a Budget
- What It’s Like to Live in Puerto Morelos, Mexico for a Month
Also check out some of my other cooking classes and food tours around the world.
- Taking a Homemade Pierogi Class with Krakow Urban Adventures
- Learning About German Cuisine on the Secret Food Tour in Berlin
- Swedish Food is So Much More Than Meatballs!
- Finding My Favorite Romanian Dishes on the Bucharest Food Tour
- Begin Your Journey in Scotland with a Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh
- Pho and Egg Coffee on the Old Quarter Street Food Tour in Hanoi with Lan
- London Food Tour: Learning All About the British Cuisine
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
- Click here to claim your $25 credit with AirB&B
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