You’d be hard-pressed to name too many recipes in which daylight is an essential ingredient. Sun-dried tomatoes, sun tea, California raisins. Add steak to the list. Cecina, is a traditional cut of beef in Mexico, sliced thin, salted, and then laid out over “beds,” to soak in the rays of the bright central Mexican sun.
Yecapixtla is the acknowledged capital of cecina in central Mexico, and it is said the tradition of curing meat in this town predates the arrival of cows — and the Spanish conquistadors who brought them — to Mexico. Before domesticated animals, they would prepare venado — deer.
A very small pueblo in the state of Morelos, the town is dusty and hot, very much the picture of provincial Mexico. The largest building in the town is a huge church complex. A former convent, San Juan Bautista was founded in 1535, just a few years after the conquest by the Spanish. With high perimeter fence, and thick-walled stone construction, it appears as much a fortified base as it is a religious center.
The rest of the town is new and low, made of indistinctive concrete block and cement. The convent anchors the place, and underscores that despite its modern and shoddy look, this is land that has roots that stretch centuries.
Upon arriving to Yecapixtla, I headed for the market — it was a Friday. If you arrive on a Saturday, the market will be buzzing, the town will be packed. However, on off days, the place had the relaxed country feel, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself, and have the full attention of the vendors.
In the market, were piled cecina, raw, red meat, cut thin and folded in heaps like cloth. Like many regional, traditional foods, restaurants are not the best place to try cecina. Restaurant cecina can be leathery, tough, and dry. On the other hand, if you go to the markets, that is where you’ll find meat with a quick turnover rate, freshly cooked over coals right in front of you.
The man behind the counter grills and slices a piece of meal. He hands me a taco filled with the salty meat. “No obligation to buy,” he adds. The meat is moist and tender. Despite the salting, the sunning, and the fact that this is just a plain taco — no cream, no avocado, no salsa — nevertheless it is one of the best beef tacos I’ve tasted.
Later in the day, I visit the workshop where this meat is made. The man in the market was the brother of Maria Guadalupe Munoz Ramirez, who works in the Munoz Cecina workshop. She walks me through the process. I’ll write more of her interview and the process of cutting and preparing this meat in the next post.