During one of her many optional side quests in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft comes across the recently-widowed Xoco, a resident of the Hidden City whose husband Sumaq had been murdered under suspicious circumstances. While Lara conducts her investigation into Sumaq’s murder, Xoco tells the inquisitive adventurer that she had been planning to make Poc Chuc for her husband. That is, before he met his grisly end. A quick Google search revealed that Poc Chuc was, in fact, a dish hailing from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
So let’s tuck into another mouth-watering edition of Taste Raider and learn more about this Mexican delicacy!
Dissecting a Dish
Let’s begin with the obvious question: What is Poc Chuc exactly? Well, the answer lies partly in its name, which is derived from the Yucatec Maya words poc ,”to toast”, and chuc,”charcoal”. It’s a grilled meat dish that is traditionally cooked over charcoal and is one of the signature dishes of contemporary Yucatán cuisine. Although some people prefer to use chicken breast, Poc Chuc is normally made with pork loin which has been seasoned with salt and marinated in the juice of bitter oranges (also known as Seville oranges), and it is often served with rice or corn tortillas.
Popular garnishes and side dishes include roasted tomatoes, pickled red onions (cebollas encurtidas), sliced avocado, refried beans (frijoles refritos), and chiltomate, a piquant salsa made from grilled tomatoes, onions, and habanero peppers. Some people prefer to serve it with X’nipek salsa – literally “dog’s nose” salsa – which is a fiery salsa made from finely chopped habanero peppers, tomatoes, red onion, bitter orange juice, coriander, and salt and guaranteed to get your nose running.
The Blurry Origins of Poc Chuc
While Poc Chuc derives its name from Yucatec Maya, food scholars and writers believe that the dish is a relatively recent creation, a fusion of Spanish and Maya cuisine. The Maya practice of roasting and marinating meat may date back centuries but many of the ingredients used to make Poc Chuc were only introduced to the Yucatán Peninsula after the conquest and colonisation of Central America in the 16th century. These include pork, onions, and citrus fruits such as lemons and bitter oranges.
Furthermore, writer and historian Gonzalo Navarrete Muñoz argues that despite its widespread popularity across the region, Poc Chuc is not a strictly indigenous Yucatecan dish and he believes that this much-loved dish only dates back to the mid 20th century. The actual origins of the dish are not clearly understood and at least two restaurants claim to be the birthplace of Poc Chuc. These include the Los Almendros restaurant in Ticul, which opened in 1962 and was the first restaurant in the area, and the El Príncipe Tutul Xiu restaurant in the nearby town of Maní.
So, perhaps Poc Chuc isn’t as ancient as Shadow of the Tomb Raider would lead us to believe. Which begs the question: how did the residents of the Hidden City know about this dish? Well, it’s implied that Trinity and, specifically, the Cult of Kukulkan taught the people English and helped them stave off starvation by teaching them new forms of agriculture and bringing food into the village during a recent famine. The village may have been cut off from the outside world but cultural exchange continued to some degree. Who’s to say that Trinity agents didn’t share a recipe or two during one of their many visits over the years?
Bring Some Yucatán Flavour to Your Kitchen!
Unlike the dishes featured in earlier editions of Taste Raider, Poc Chuc is made with ingredients that can easily be found at your local supermarket or food market. So if you’d like to try your hand at making some Poc Chuc at home, here are a couple of recipes you could try out!
The host of Cookin’ With Grandmas might not be to everyone’s taste but his video with the Yucatán-based “auntie” Panchita is one of the most authentic and easy to follow Poc Chuc recipes around.
If you find his presenting style a little hard to stomach, check out Claudia Bolles’ step by step guide to making Poc Chuc, taken from her cookbook Mexican Recipes of Yucatán. Those with some knowledge of Spanish can find a fantastic, straightforward recipe over on the Cocina de Addy YouTube channel.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there is no one standard recipe for Poc Chuc and bitter oranges can be hard to find in some countries, so different chefs may use slightly different ingredients. And if you’re not a fan of pork, there’s nothing stopping you from replacing it with chicken breast or any type of meat substitute. Have fun with this dish!
Sources & Further Reading:
- El Poc-Chuc (Best of Riviera Maya)
- Food Culture in Central America by Michael R. McDonald, ABC-CLIO, 2009.
- Los Almendros: Creadores del Poc-Chuc by Gonzalo Navarrete Muñoz (MeridaDeYucatan.Com)
- Poc Chuc (Dish Roots)
- Poc Chuc (Wikipedia, English)
- Poc Chuc (Wikipedia, Spanish)
- Poc Chuc de Cerdo (EcuRed)
- Restaurante Los Almendros