Empanadas + Isla Mujeres and Tulum + Ethical Travel?

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My favorite place in the world is Mexico. Specifically Cuernavaca, Mexico City and now Isla Mujeres and Tulum.

The idea of ethical travel has been on my mind a lot recently. I can’t help but be aware of my privilege as a light skinned tourist with a passport from the United States. Travel is awesome and I want to keep doing it but I need to ask myself, how can we ethically travel?

Here are some ideas I have:

stay at small hotels or airbnbs owned and run by Mexican families

eat at locally owned restaurants

tip well

speak Spanish!

buy souvenirs from local artisans

What else have you all got?

One restaurant that I was really looking forward to going to in Tulum is called Hartwood. Every single blog post I read about Tulum insisted on going to Hartwood. Hartwood was started by a couple from New York. A White couple from the United States. The food they make is all cooked over an open flame or blended in 1 blender plugged into their only outlet powered by a generator. This place is hip. Like the hippest restaurant I’ve ever been to. The ambience was pretty great. The bathroom was even amazing, dark and burning with pure copal. Drinks strong, creative, and beautiful. The food wasn’t too bad either 😉

The food served at Hartwood is all local fish, meats, and produce gathered the same day it is to be eaten from local farmers. We ate a salad of jicama marinated in orange juice served atop a swoop of mint cream sauce. Dotted with beet cream and punctuated by orange segments and toasted pumpkin seeds. Then a filet of local fish called RRRRRR. Served with roasted cauliflower, fresh beans, arugula, jalapeño, and lime. And lastly a roasted in its peel, platano accompanied by local honey, fresh chamomile and cinnamon. I ordered a cocktail of mezcal and jamaica with a salted habanero rim. My mom ordered a cucumber vodka cocktail. Our meal came out to around $75 US dollars.

So it was expensive. Mainly white tourists were eating there. The staff was a mix of light skinned men and women and a few darker skinned people. Now I keep asking myself, was it messed up that I supported this restaurant and spent that much money there rather than a different restaurant? And I don’t have an answer because I don’t think it’s a black or white situation. In some ways it is amazing what Hartwood is doing — sharing local food with those who might not have otherwise chosen to eat that way. And they support local farms and businesses in the purchasing of their food. On the other hand, white businesses in foreign countries (particularly countries like Mexico with a specific history of exploitation by the United States) are symbols of continued oppression of communities of color.

Here are some pictures of our meal there:

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What do you all think?

Many places, including Hartwood had empanadas on the menu. I got inspired and decided to make some vegetarian empanadas when I returned home.

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Empanadas

Dough – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 teaspoons salt

2 sticks cold butter

2 eggs

2/3 cup ice water

2 tablespoons vinegar

Instructions: 

Combine flour and salt in a big bowl.

Cut in cold butter using pastry cutter or fork.

Mix eggs, water, and vinegar.

Pour into flour, salt and butter mixture.

Mix together then using hands, gather two balls of dough and wrap in plastic wrap.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out one of the two chunks of dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Use a bowl or round cutter to cut into 5 inch rounds.

With each 5 inch round place a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle. Fold dough in half to form a half moon shape. Pinch ends of dough together using a fork or roll edges up to make a rope design.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until outsides are golden brown.

Filling:

1 sweet potato

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

pickled jalapeños

Instructions: 

Roast sweet potato till soft. Remove skin and cut up into chunks.

Carmelize onions and garlic in olive oil or butter.

Combine onions, garlic, sweet potato chunks, cheese, and jalapeños.

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