When someone says Mexican food, most people automatically think of beans, corn, chile and spicy salsa. That is essentially correct, on the other hand there is so much more to Mexican cuisine than those ingredients… I could fill an entire book raving about Mexican cuisine, here I’m just gonna give you a little taste.
During my 3 weeks in Puerto Morelos I became a huge fan of tortillas, and some of their other ingredients like chaya, a local leafy plant (also called tree spinach). Similarly to spinach, chaya is an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, and antioxidants (careful though, it’s toxic when eaten raw); it is also refreshing and filling when used in in omelettes, sandwiches, and a variety of other dishes. I’ve also learned that salsas come in different variations, like mango salsa (exquisite in mango season), lime & chile salsa (contains no tomatoes, and is only served in small amounts), avocado & tomatillo salsa (a green paste, seasoned with habañero chile and coriander leaves, also served as soup, depending on the consistency). And these are just a few.
Without attempting to be comprehensive, chilles rellenos (stuffed poblano peppers), and polkanes (a Yucatan specialty similar to corn fritters, made with white beans and a special corn dough) are among my favourites. If you feel more adventurous, try other local delicacies of the meaty variety, like sopa de lima (chicken & lime soup), queso relleno (a whole, hollowed cheese stuffed with meat and vegetables), ceviche (fish marinated in citrus juice), the list goes on. Most restaurant will have turkey (pavo), chicken (pollo) and pork (carnitas) dishes on their menu. For dessert try a creamy flan, a tres leches cake, churros, or round off your meal with thick, melted hot chocolate instead of coffee. The possibilities are endless.
The dishes listed above are best to try in a good restaurant. Eating out in Mexico is relatively inexpensive (depending on the restaurant of course), even if you do so every day. I firmly believe that trying local flavours is an essential part of being a traveller, so ask around for the best places, read reviews on touristic websites, or watch where the locals go to eat. In small villages like Puerto Morelos most people will agree on where they serve the best tacos, and you can surely find someone, who will know the only vegetarian restaurant in town.
When it comes to food hygiene you will be safe in most restaurants. With street vendors however you venture into try-it-at-your-own-risk territory. Their equipment varies between a vertically halved oil barrel with a grill rack outside a residential building, and a properly equipped stall with a built in stove. Everybody has heard horror stories of food poisonings, and other fun stuff. I’m not trying to discourage you, just remember: because something looks or smells good, it doesn’t mean it won’t mess with your stomach. Always be aware that some of us with first world immune systems don’t have the intestinal fortitude required to face the culinary challenges of Central and South America.
The same applies for ice cream. It’s essentially vendor food, so choose carefully; the delicate nature of certain ingredients when exposed to heat combined with the lack of food hygiene in certain places are a quick recipe for a salmonella infection, and trust me, that is no laughing matter. Always buy from responsible, traceable sources, like shops that have the facilities to store ingredients at the right temperature, or dedicated ice cream parlours with a high turnover, who make their own product fresh from scratch every day. I have to admit, I had the best ice cream of my life in Mexico.
Besides eating out you can opt for home-cooked food. There are usually several places where you can acquire the needed ingredients. In most bigger villages you can find local grocers selling fruits, vegetables, and other essentials like fresh bread, eggs, corn dough, etc. Definitely try their freshly squeezed fruit juices (orange, clementines, grapefruit, watermelon, etc.), but know that some contain added sugar. You can ask the owners for the sugar-free goods. Also try coconut water; when taken freshly from the nut and kept on cold, it is by far the best refreshing beverage you can get on a hot day. A real thirst quencher with essential vitamins and electrolytes.
Tortillerias are small bakeries selling freshly baked, readymade tortilla. If you fancy home made burritos or quesadillas, that is the best place to get your tortillas. Supermarkets (if there’s any in town), like anywhere else, are a one-stop shopping experience. Convenient, relatively fast, although lacking the quiet charm of the local grocer.
And finally, people usually come to Puerto Morelos for the sea, not for the food, but if you decide to visit this charming little fishing village where I spent the last 3 weeks, here are my favourite places I’ve frequented:
El Nicho (on the main square) for the best scrambles and omelettes.
Coffee & Cream (down on Av Javier Rojo Gomez) for the best coffee in town.
A little ice cream parlour on the main square, next to La Casa del Pescador worth visiting for their Mayan chocolate and coconut ice cream.
T@cos.com for their tacos (would you believe?)
Siempre Sano (down on Av Niños Heroes) for vegetarian tacos and snacks with a healthy twist.
La Sirena for Mexican food with a Greek twist, and for Saturday nights out with live music.
The Little Mexican Cooking School for their cooking courses and excellent selection of artisan goods (great for souvenirs).
Chulim, a little grocer for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Casa Martin, a small local shop for most of your everyday needs (sells fresh local bread and eggs).
Next week I’ll give you my take on the do’s and don’ts when travelling in Mexico.
In the meantime enjoy the gallery for more pictures by clicking here.