Zay Colli

I was born and raised in Nunkini, a small town on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. With my father and grandfather looking after the fields and my mother, aunts, and grandmother passing down their culinary knowledge and family recipes, falling in love with cooking was only natural for me, if not logical, then certainly a matter of time.

Growing up, it was common for us to gather as a family and cook together to make ‘Siintún,’ a typical dish from Nunkini. ‘Siintún’ is even older than the famous cochinita. If we trace back its origins, we find them in pre-Hispanic Yucatán. The Siintun was a preservation method used by hunters. When they went out for several days and caught an animal, they would dig a small hole in the ground, place stones over a bed of firewood that would heat up, then place the animal on leaves from nearby trees over those stones, cover it with more leaves, and finally bury it in dirt, letting it cook for hours while they continued hunting.

The flavors, ingredients, and family gatherings shaped my passion for preserving our cultural identity.

Globalization reaches everywhere. In the village market, where the best-selling items on the Day of the Dead used to be traditional sweets made from local fruits, today’s top sellers are Costco cakes. Where there used to be pride in tradition, today’s younger generations show rejection. And, of course, it’s painful because our food isn’t just something we enjoy—it’s our identity. Traditional dishes represent years of culture, teachings passed down through generations, conversations with your grandmother while cooking, direct connection to the land and what it gives us, admiration, and respect for our past. It’s who we are. If we trade that for the United States industrially made food, using ingredients grown in Colombia, flavored with chemicals from China, and sold in Mexico, then who are we? Where does our identity lie?

Today, I’m the chef at Keexti, a restaurant in Mérida, just an hour away from Nunkini. Whenever possible, I incorporate family recipes into what I do to showcase our traditions through my dishes and the pride I feel for my family’s legacy.

🎤 and 📸 @luisdavidaln