Poc Chuc

After climbing the Maya pyramid in Coba, I made a delicious detour along the way before going home.  A little cafe offered traditional Maya cuisine.  I had no idea what that included, but I was going to learn.  And, I think it was meant to be.  As soon as I sat down, a rain storm popped up out of nowhere.  I was seated, dry, and ready to discover Poc Chuc de Cerdo.

Again, if you spoke Mayan, you would instantly know what Poc Chuc is all about. Poc (or póok) means roasted or grilled and chuc (or chúuk) means over wood coals.  It’s a traditional Maya dish of meat prepared in a citrus marinade and then grilled to perfection.  "Cerdo" was pork, but another options can use chicken or fish.  The English portion of the menu described the dish as pork fillet with grilled achiote Mayan sauce, served with beans, rice, vegetables and handmade tortillas.

Poc Chuc
a treat from the Maya, Yucatán, Mexico
Pork 1 1/2 pounds pork chops    
Salt Mixture 2 tsp salt   1 tsp dried thyme
  1 tsp sugar   1 tsp black pepper
  1 tsp dried oregano    

Combine these dry ingredients to form a salt mixture. Pat dry your pork (or chicken/fish if you must) and place it in a baking tray. Sprinkle the salt mixture on the meat, cover and refrigerate for two to four hours.

I personally already have trouble with the recipe. The first step takes two to four hours and I never have that kind of patience in the kitchen. Anyway . . .

After that seriously long delay, place your meat inside a double layer of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, which also does not exist in my kitchen, pound your little pork chops. Then, put the meat in zip lock bags.

Marinade 1/2 cup orange juice   4 garlic cloves
  1/4 cup lime juice   1 tsp black pepper

Combine the orange juice and the lime juice, crushed garlic and the pepper to form your marinade sauce.

Add this into the zip lock bag with the pork and let it stand for thirty minutes.

Another delay. And, when that time is up, you can toss the marinade sauce.

The final directions for the pork have to do with grilling. And, remember, the name Poc Chuc means "grilled over hot coals". But, I'm here to tell you I saw it fried up in a frying pan when I ate it. It was fine by me. So, however you cook it, do what feels comfortable for you.

Grilling instructions are for medium high heat. Cook the meat on both sides for a minute and then cover the grill for five.

Topping 2 medium onions   3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  1/4 habanerno pepper   salt and pepper taste
  1/4 cup lime juice   1/3 cup chopped cilantro

There is a bunch of deliciousness to go on top of the pork when it's ready to eat. And, a big part of that is onions.

Directions are to grill the onions whole and blacken them. Let them cool, peal off the black, and dice them up. I personally will only dice and fry them up in a pan. And, if you want a little fire in your topping, you can also fry up all or a fraction of a habenero pepper. They are flaming hot.

Garnish with lime juice, cabbage, more salt and pepper along with the cilantro and you're ready to go. You'll notice in the photo that I only had onions on top.


You may have noticed that my meal has achiote but not my recipe. I assume if you'e like me and never heard of it, you'd also never find any. But, I had to ask about it.  I was shown some dried leaves and explained that they were used in cooking to add color to the dish.  Achiote is also used in commercial products to add yellow and orange coloring to butter, cheese, cakes, sausage and even popcorn.  However, I found the original use much more interesting.  Indigenous people used to use achiote for body paint and lipstick.

The vegetables included grilled onions sautéed with coriander over the pork, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.  My meal had rice and frijoles.  Every meal in Mexico has rice and beans.  But, I suspected that no Maya chef ever really used rice.  The three staples, called the three sisters, were squash, corn and beans. Perhaps she is a half-sister, because the fourth staple – never called a sister – was chili peppers. There were also three varieties of salsa.  One was green fire.  I don’t know if it is the one I researched called “dog snout salsa” but it very well could be.  It gets that name because it makes your nose run.  Whatever I had did that to my nose.

As far as "handmade" tortillas go, I think I was more of an expert than the usual gringo who showed up at this restaurant's doorstep. I'd witnessed tortillas mass-produced by machines that automatically spit them out until the batch of dough is finished. I'd also witnessed the individual tortilla press at Mama Javier's restaurant. I expected "handmade" to mean there were actual hand prints on the finished product. I was served perfectly made, flat tortillas just like Mama Javier made. So, they may not have been as "handmade" as I wanted, but that didn't stop me from eating every single one of them.

The indigenous people of Mexico were the first to realize the joys of chocolate, savored by the Olmecs, Mayas and Aztecs alike.  Evidence suggests that it was consumed as early as 2600 years ago.  However, sugar didn’t exist in the Maya world.  The word chocolate comes from the Maya word “xocolati” which means “bitter water”.  Their hot chocolate was a mixture of crushed cocoa beans, water and hot chili peppers.  Yep, that adds a whole new meaning to “hot chocolate”. 

Well, there is sugar in this part of the world today.  But, my traditional Maya meal didn’t have any dessert, chocolate or sugar.  It really didn’t matter.  This meal was an unexpected treat.  When I travel, I have a short list of things to do.  Anything additional is considered “extra dessert”.  My “to do” item was to climb Coba.  So, enjoying this unexpected and unplanned meal was enough of a “dessert” for me.

Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.