El Yucateco

I guess it was Christmas of my Sophomore year in college, I would have already submitted my applications for Junior year abroad (in France since I was an art history major) at that point. For some reason we ended up in Cancun with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. They had come to Cancun a few times already, but we had never been to Mexico. Something clicked in my 20 year old brain and I switched my application immediately upon returning to school from France to Mexico, specifically Merida in the Yucatan about 3 hours west of Cancun. I’ve had an almost 15 year love affair with the peninsula since.

The Yucatan is an incredibly special place. Home to the Mayans, the farthest removed from the capitol of the country, no fresh water on the surface, no mountains, a totally flat plane of bedrock that rose up out of the ocean. Home to Cenotes, Mayan pyramids, an accented Spanish just like the English in the Southern U.S., and a really strong regional food culture.

So this past week I returned. This time to a resort just north of Playa del Carmen. The last time I was here I got my first tattoo and it was a sleepy little hippy town…it has changed a lot, needless to say. This trip was not to explore, it was not to do much of anything so I picked an all inclusive, small hotel.

Turns out the hotel has an amazing kitchen staff and head chef. Meal after meal I was surprised and impressed. I will do a post of pictures of some of the lunches. There was a full and varied menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but they would also make anything you asked for and it was as fresh and delicious as anything on the menu. Besides using local and fresh ingredients the portions were perfect. I never had one meal where I felt like I overate.

Tonight the week of wonderful eating culminated in a beach BBQ. the entire kitchen and it’s staff was moved to a fire pit. Each of the four courses captured the classic and traditional flavors of Mayan food that I first experienced 15 years ago but with a contemporary twist. Much like what Blackberry Farm in Walland or City House in Nashville or Husk in Charleston does. Take your roots, in this case all the way back to the Mayans and up to the major resort developments and make it your own. So the menu:

Sweet potato soup with Chaya crisps (Chaya is a green specific to the peninsula. Over in Merida they scramble it in with eggs. Often it is juiced. The leaves are more similar to spinach than chard or kale.)
Bread served with a coriander, poblano chile crema (each night they served house made bread with a different spread)
Green salad with frisee and other salad greens, grapefruit, queso fresco served with a lime/jalapeno vinaigrette
BBQ served in an iron skillet, like what fajitas are served in at home, was a mixture of baby lamb from Campeche (the most western state on the peninsula. Grilled to perfection.), beef, chicken, scallops, shrimp, fish, and squid
Chocolate cake with a grand mariner crema filling and coffee ice cream

The entire meal was amazing, perfect and put a huge smile on my face. It was one of those moments where you see and taste and remember many memories all on one plate.