We have been eating our way through Mexico for the last five weeks, and my goodness, have we eaten. We started off in the Yucatan, for the uninitiated , it is the part of Mexico, that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche. The most well known town is Cancun, and this points across to Cuba and onto Miami. In the 70’s Cancun was little known but now it is a bustling beachside resort, Mexico’s answer to Blackpool or Coney island (with better weather).
Cozumel, a great dive site, is around the corner, as is Tulum, one of the many Mayan sites which are to be seen in the Yucatan.There are no rivers in the Yucatan, but apparently many underground caves, for underground exploration and swimming (not for me, I hasten to add). The vegetation is rather scrubby and the 300+ Km drive across the peninsular, from a scenic standpoint leaves much to be desired.
A word of warning if you ever decide to follow in our tracks. Hit the Highway and the next gas station is 180 Km away, with no exit before then! One girlfriend got stuck when driving this route with her daughters, and flagged down a passing cop who was persuaded with some $$$$ to syphon off some for her!!
We gave the classic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza a miss this time around, but went instead to Uxmal, which is only 80 Km south of Merida. BUT beware, it is easy to get a little lost. We followed the signs but then the signs were no more, so we ended up driving cross-country. An experience in itself. Mexico LOVES speed bumps, even when there is not a hope of speeding because of POTHOLES. SO on the cross-country route, there are speed bumps, which are huge and potholes which are so huge that they spread right across the road. However, the end result was worth it as UXMAL is such a pleasant experience, compared to Chichen Itza, there were almost no people there and the restoration work was fabulous.
We stayed in an old Meridian house, beautifully restored in the centre of Merida, (loaned to us by a friend of #1 daughter’s). From the outside it was nothing special but inside, it was lovely, built around a courtyard, complete with plunge pool and surrounded by Bougainvillea.
So onto food. I have to say were a little disappointed with Yucatecan food. We tried La Chaya Maya, which came recommended but the speciality we chose was not the best. The women sitting in the window making the tortillas, were interesting though and most people we met were friendly and helpful
There is a strong Mayan culture in the region ( maybe a resurgence?) and people do actually speak Mayan. The oldest Cathedral in North America, is to be found in Merida, built-in about 1543, by the Spanish after they destroyed the Mayan Temples, (much of the stone used in the building of the church, came from the destroyed temples.)
However for Breakfast we found a typical Mexican hangout ( just as well we do not eat like this everyday) and Himself had the Huevos Motulenos and I had the Chilaquilles. Mexicans buy fresh tortillas, everyday, just like the French buy baquettes. But of course they go stale overnight and so in the morning the stale ones are used to make Chilaquiles. Tortillas are cut into chips and fried, layered with cheese ( Oaxacan string cheese), topped with either shredded chicken or scrambled eggs, along with red or green salsa and maybe some sour cream.
Moving right along, Frida Kahlo, the artist, wife of Diego Rivera and lover of Leon Trotski, had nothing, as far as I know,to do with Merida, Except there is a restaurant called La Casa de Frida. Small hole in the wall type place, dedicated to Frida, pictures of her everywhere and bright bold colours. We were the only diners, well it was rather early for Mexico, about 8.30pm, the time between lunch (which in some cases does not end until 5pm) and dinner.
I had ( well actually we shared) the Chile en Nogada. A wonderful dish consisting of a green chile,( stuffed with minced turkey) white walnut sauce and red pomegranate the colours of the Mexican flag. This dish is a Mexican Independence day favourite.
Himself ordered the duck breast in Mole. Mole IS Mexico, it takes hours to make, along with constant stirring and ooodles of ingredients, up to 15 of them just for this sauce. Basically it is stock, chilies and chocolate. Many restaurants have their own “secret” recipe, never to be divulged. But all streetmarkets have vendors of Mole, but I have yet to buy any, although in a class in Oaxaca we did actually make it.
As I have been told, these are too long, this is Mexico Part one, More to follow! Happy eating everyone!