The tortilla I’d just made looked perfect … until it disintegrated into a pathetic little pile of rags. I’d tried to follow Lily Rivera’s directions, carefully flattening a ball of masa in a small hand press lined with plastic wrap. But when I attempted to peel it off, something went terribly wrong. Clearly, I had a lot to learn.
My husband, Rick, and I were preparing traditional Mexican dishes with Lily during a cooking class in her bright and colorful Tulum kitchen. My tortilla-challenged moment only served to increase the fun.
Located 85 miles south of Cancún and just beyond the tidal wave of tourism that has swept down the Yucatán’s Caribbean coast, Tulum draws throngs of visitors to the spectacular 13th-century Mayan ruins on the outskirts of town. Yet Tulum itself remains an authentic pueblo with simple taquerias, intimate restaurants, and low-rise hotels. Lily’s gaily decorated house—“Look for the pink and green porch, and a tree strung with lights”—was easy to spot in a modest neighborhood off the main road.
Wearing a flowing white skirt and traditional black blouse embroidered with red flowers, she welcomed us with a broad smile. Her ebony hair pulled straight back and up, she looked more like a dancer than a cook. She is, in fact, a diver, and worked as a scuba guide when she moved to Tulum from her native Mexico City more than two decades ago. But she’s also a lifelong cook: “I was raised in my grandmother’s kitchen,” she told us. “I love sharing my heritage.” Encouraged by the rave reviews her food always received, she switched careers and began offering classes in her home.