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Any tips for the Yucatan?


rancho_gordo
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I'm going to be in the Yucatan from Wed until the 1st. I love this area but I don't really know it well. Are there any must-see things for me? I'd love to find any open markets where I might find some interesting beans and chiles. I also have a weird love of ollas and serving bowls + plates. I'll be near Tulum and Akumal and am up to a day trip or overnight trip if it's a good idea. I'm thinking Valladolid might be worth a visit.

Also, let me know of any 'must-try' dishes from the region.

Thanks!

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Hola queridas,

Writing from Oaxaca at present. I recommend trying anything pibil style - pit cooked, slathered in achiote and wrapped in banana leaves. Also treat yourself to some recados -spice pastes reknowned in the Yucatan, look for the homemade ones in the market. The green one especially is fab, lots of herbs.

Don´t forget to try the habanero salsas - if you can get past the blow-your-head-off heat, habaneros taste very apricoty.

Have a great trip.

shelora

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Yes, order the cochinita pibil everywhere.

And get to Mérida. For sure. And go to one of the free concerts....every square in town hosts a free concert on different evenings.

And get up to Ría de Celestún....this is a must-do. Hire one of the guys with a boat to take you to see the flamingoes, egrets, and other wildlife in this remarkable preserve.

I love the Yucatan.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I had the best conch of my life at Majahual, a tiny fishing village about a ten minute walk south of the new cruise ship pier at Costa maya. It was a conch salad and was so far superior to any of the conch I've tried elsewhere that it was almost like a different food. Not sure if it's as good further up the coast where you'll be but it's worth checking out. Also, if near a beach, ask around to see fi there are any beach vendors for spiny lobster (should it happen to be in season - I'm not sure if it is right now). Over on Cozumel there's a guy who gets fresh lobster every day, seasons/butters it and then grills right there on the beach. I wasn't lucky enough to try any on my last visit there but have heard great things about it.

Coz actually has some great taqueria and other little local joints once you get away from the touristy places near the cruise ship terminal and the town square.

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Papadulzes?

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, the trip was fun but the area has changed a lot. It is very difficult to get Mexican food!!! I realize I was in a tourist area but almost everywhere that seemed to have potential ended up being fair or nasty. Flour tortillas, fajitas and french fries were the standard. We stopped at a small roadside restaurant and the owners apologized profusely that all they had was Mexican food and fully expected us to leave. It's a very weird situation.

I ate pibil a lot but the habanero/onion pickle I remember is now almost always just onions. The first time I got it I asked for some hot sauce. I loaded it on to my dish but then realized it was simply pureed green habaneros and nothing more. Yowza! It was like getting high and after that nothing was hot enough.

Another disturbing trend is the supermarket. We were in Akumel, just north of Tulum and we couldn't find an alternative to the supermarket for the fisrt week. The vegetables are even worse than supermarket vegetables in the states and yet the stores were full of locals. Nothing had any flavor and I was oversalting everything to compensate! Finally we discovered a very good fishmonger who suggested a greengrocer and things looked up. From them we got to have chaya, romeritos, nopales and beans, beans, beans! I finally tried real Mexican Bayo, nothing like what I grew. Also found what they called Bayo Blanco, very similar to a runner cannellini. I'm curious if they're easier to grow. Flor de Mayo were everywhere but the real find was a small off-white bean called Alubia. Everyone went nuts for this bean, especially the non-bean eaters. it's delicate and light and a perfect vehicle for sauce. There's a gummy Navy bean called Rice and this is everything that bean should be.

Also out of this world was a local chile call X-Katic, a twisted light green chile. I brought back seeds from some good samples and hope to grow it here.

We ate a local squash that was small and green and had a very textured orange flesh and small seeds. It almost seemed a cross between a summer and winter squash. I kept asking the name but all they would call it was "calabaza'. I pressed for the type but they looked at me like I was nuts. I found it in the supermarket and it was marked Calabaza Locale. I saved the seeds but they seemed to ferment on the trip home and don't have high hopes for them.

Anyway, these are a few thoughts. It's such an interesting region but I had the feeling that most of the visitors just wanted sun and a beach and it could have been anywhere in the Carribean. It was high season and the weather was super so I guess it's natural. But I want my Mexico!!!!!

Next trip: Valladolid!

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Ay ay ay, Ranchito--if you'd said you were going to Akumal, I could have warned you. Akumal is definitely in the Yucatan, but it is barely of the Yucatán. California friends own a condo there and have told me what a paradise it is for foreigner tourists, including lots of Europeans--and that it bears no resemblance to anything like your (or my) Mexico. They have told me about one restaurant they like, but their palates are anything but discriminating. Although I would have given you the name of the place, it would have been with a caveat. You're so right, they say that all the food in Akumal is geared to the pallid palate.

Thank goodness you found people who were willing to steer you in the direction of real food. Alubias are marvelous!

It particularly disturbs me that according to my friends, all the beachfront property is developed and overdeveloped for condos etc and all the Mexicans have been displaced into buildings that are nothing like their traditional homes. Did you find that to be true?

Bienvenido a casa and thanks for the report.

Esperanza

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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It particularly disturbs me that according to my friends, all the beachfront property is developed and overdeveloped for condos etc and all the Mexicans have been displaced into buildings that are nothing like their traditional homes.  Did you find that to be true?

I'm not sure I think it's so terrible that foreigners are overrunning the beaches. The economy of the Yucatan has certainly been lifted. And the Mexicans I know like having jobs and cement houses with electricity, even if they're not so picturesque. I guess like everything else, there's some good and some bad.

But....

The thing that really gets me, and I mean really gets me, is that many of the most beloved, and beautiful, and even sacred, places of the Maya, are now theme parks, like Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Aktun Chen, Tres Rios, that cost $40 or so to get in...far beyond the means of the average Maya, much less an entire family.

I asked if there were reduced rates (like free) for the Maya but was told that there is not. One taxi driver told me that he had managed to get in one time when he had taken a group of gringos and they paid his way in. "I really love for my wife and children to see, too," he said sadly, knowing that it was probably never going to happen in this world.

I think that's beyond being merely a travesty. Or even a theft. In fact, the only word that comes to my mind to adequately express it is rape.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I was a guest or I would never have picked the place, but as far as food goes, I found it up and down the "Riviera Maya". I was with Euro in-laws and they liked the place very much. The most horrific was Playa del Carmen, packed, nasty and loaded with fajitas. Unlike the rest of Mexico, which I find filled with all kinds of tourists, this area was full of East Coasters and Europeans. I like both, don't get me wrong, but again, my general impression was they were after cheap sun more than anything.

from jaymes:

The thing that really gets me, and I mean really gets me, is that many of the most beloved, and beautiful, and even sacred, places of the Maya, are now theme parks, like Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Aktun Chen, Tres Rios, that cost $40 or so to get in...far beyond the means of the average Maya, much less an entire family.

Try $50!!!!! I drew the line and refused to go.

esperanza wrote:

It particularly disturbs me that according to my friends, all the beachfront property is developed and overdeveloped for condos etc and all the Mexicans have been displaced into buildings that are nothing like their traditional homes. Did you find that to be true?

I'm no expert but I would guess it's true. We were in Akumal Sud which is newer and full of insane McMansions (McHaciendas?) cramped next to each other, so close you could hear the strains of classic rock and vintage disco at the same time, in stereo, from opposite neighbors. I had brought music by Lucha Reyes, some danzon and Jorge Negrete but felt is was deperately out of place in this Mexico!

But it is pretty, the water mild and the ruins are thrilling and it's not the wet soggy mess that is Northern California.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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I don't suppose you made it to either Merida or Celestun....my recommendations.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Ranchismo....

Next time you travel to the Yucatan, I'd suggest you make Merida your headquarters. Merida is a wonderful city, full of art, music and romance, excellent markets, shops and restaurants, and fine old mansions from its heyday as one of the wealtiest cities in Mexico. It has three nicknames....'The Paris of Mexico,' 'The Music City,' and 'The White City.'

And also to recommend it, because it's inland and off of the tourist trails, the place is absolutely crawling with real Mexicans. There are three hotels I'd suggest...Hotel Caribe (old convent, with rooms starting at $35), Casa del Balam (a slight step up in budget and accommodations) and, if you want elegance, the Fiesta Americana, perfectly located on the broad boulevard, Paseo de Montejo, and still a bargain with rooms beginning at $85.

There are several ruins to visit within an easy daytrip (including Chichen Itza), and you can get up to the coast at Celestun in about an hour.

I love Merida. If I ever manage to achieve my goal of living a year or so in Mexico, Merida is one of the cities I'll try.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I'm new to this forum but i wish i had inquired here before our foray to the yucatan. We stayed at a huge resort Riviera maya. It came highly recommended and was beautiful. I will have to say that it was not very mexican....definately catered to americans, foodwise and drinkwise. I love tequila, maybe a bit too much!!, but the vast majority of tequila there was cuervo gold and i do not like cuervo gold at all. We decided to take a taxi to Playa del Carmen. Very few good things to say about PdC. Huge tourist trap in my opinion. Pizza, french fries T-shirt shops and merchants who call, yell, follow, insult...whatever it takes to get your attention in hopes that you'll buy whatever overpriced junk they're selling.

These were some of the bad things but it was not all bad. Our concierge directed us to a delightful restaurant outside of PdC. Great food, Just what we were looking for...and the people were fantastic. Made lotsa friends, drank lotsa tequila (even tho i had to find an american liquor store to get what i wanted!! :laugh: I will definately go back to mexico, just not there and i'll do my homework a bit better next time.

I guess, since i'm from southern chester Co., Pa, i'm a little spoiled. Huge mexican population here. The taqueiras and small grocery stores that have popped up here are AWESOME. The Mexicanas i used to work with would bring me taquitos and tamales to die for...and would always share the recipe for them and their salsas and moles. I'm a MUCH better cook with the addition of my mexican repertoire.

PdC was definately not for me for the same reasons stated by rancho gordo. I was advised that if i wanted tequila i should go to Jalisco. Any thoughts?

...and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce it tastes alot more like prunes than rhubarb does. groucho

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I'm new to this forum but i wish i had inquired here before our foray to the yucatan.  We stayed at a huge resort Riviera maya.  It came highly recommended and was beautiful.  I will have to say that it was not very mexican....definately catered to americans, foodwise and drinkwise.  I love tequila, maybe a bit too much!!, but the vast majority of tequila there was cuervo gold and i do not like cuervo gold at all.  We decided to take a taxi to Playa del Carmen.  Very few good things to say about PdC.  Huge tourist trap in my opinion.  Pizza, french fries T-shirt shops and merchants who call, yell, follow, insult...whatever it takes to get your attention in hopes that you'll buy whatever overpriced junk they're selling. 

These were some of the bad things but it was not all bad.  Our concierge directed us to a delightful restaurant outside of PdC.  Great food, Just what we were looking for...and the people were fantastic.  Made lotsa friends, drank lotsa tequila (even tho i had to find an american liquor store to get what i wanted!! :laugh:  I will definately go back to mexico, just not there and i'll do my homework a bit better next time.

I guess, since i'm from southern chester Co., Pa, i'm a little spoiled.  Huge mexican population here.  The taqueiras and small grocery stores that have popped up here are AWESOME.  The Mexicanas i used to work with would bring me taquitos and tamales to die for...and would always share the recipe for them and their salsas and moles.  I'm a MUCH better cook with the addition of my mexican repertoire.

PdC was definately not for me for the same reasons stated by rancho gordo.  I was advised that if i wanted tequila i should go to Jalisco.  Any thoughts?

I drank great tequila just about everywhere I went in PLaya outside of the hotel.

I maybe had one or two people bug me about a timeshare or selling merch. 5th ave, although touristy looked great and had a fun vibe for those more squimish people.

I only had decent food with the exception of some really good ceviche at la floresta. Nothing I couldn't get in Houston outside of some great sopa de lima.

Where was the great food just outside of playa?

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Sorry, the restaraunt i spoke of was not outside of playa, it was off of 8th ave. called Yaxche(hope i'm spelling that right). Had a tamale in banana leaf that i thought was very good. That whole 5th ave. thing....i just couldn't get behind that.

But don't get me wrong, i don't mean to sound like the whole trip was bad. We stayed at the Secrets Capri resort which was really nice, especially since they messed up our room and had to put us in the presidential suite. That was very cool.

I think where we messed up was doing the excursions through the resort. We found them to be overstated. A friend said we had to do the romantic lobster dinner sunset boatride. Way too many people on the boat. Some ate standing up. It was a fiasco, especially when the operator of the boat must have emptied the septic tanks to the boat close to where we docked. People left the boat with their shirts covering their nose and mouth because of the stench. We laughed so hard on the way home...til we got sick and were up most of the night. Went on a great snorkeling trip which i would love to do again.

On the tequila note, the weather was oppressively hot when we were there and the tequila we had while out and about had obviously been in the sun all day. It was hot and it seemed to affect the flavor profile....to that of gasoline.

It seems the area where we stayed was being developed for tourism which is all well and good but it really wasn't what i was looking for. I'm sure that area is a great place for a vacation, we just made a few bad choices while we were there. Still got a lot of great memories and had alot of laughs.

...and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce it tastes alot more like prunes than rhubarb does. groucho

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Sorry, the restaraunt i spoke of was not outside of playa, it was off of 8th ave. called Yaxche(hope i'm spelling that right).  Had a tamale in banana leaf that i thought was very good.  That whole 5th ave. thing....i just couldn't get behind that. 

But don't get me wrong, i don't mean to sound like the whole trip was bad.  We stayed at the Secrets Capri resort which was really nice, especially since they messed up our room and had to put us in the presidential suite.  That was very cool. 

I think where we messed up was doing the excursions through the resort.  We found them to be overstated.  A friend said we had to do the romantic lobster dinner sunset boatride.  Way too many people on the boat.  Some ate standing up.  It was a fiasco, especially when the operator of the boat must have emptied the septic tanks to the boat close to where we docked.  People left the boat with their shirts covering their nose and mouth because of the stench.  We laughed so hard on the way home...til we got sick and were up most of the night.  Went on a great snorkeling trip which i would love to do again.

On the tequila note, the weather was oppressively hot when we were there and the tequila we had while out and about had obviously been in the sun all day.  It was hot and it seemed to affect the flavor profile....to that of gasoline.

It seems the area where we stayed was being developed for tourism which is all well and good but it really wasn't what i was looking for.  I'm sure that area is a great place for a vacation, we just made a few bad choices while we were there.  Still got a lot of great memories and had alot of laughs.

Actually there are some very chowish places in Playa, to bad you missed them. Yes it is a bit touristy but I felt it was clean, fun, and overall nice place to visit. We actually only did one short ATV jungle tour and it was a blast. yaxche is actually on the other side of the freeway and is a interesting place serving mayan cousine. El Pastorcito had great tacos al pastor as did tacos alla something. Papa Hemmingways had great sopa d lima. La Floresta, El oasis for great ceviche and fish tacos, Hotel Allhambra for incredible chilaquillas and of course the churra stand in the middle of town. PLus many more I didn't hit like the butcher who will sell you meats cooked by the kilo and throw in tortillas and salsa.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Going back to that query about tequila and Jalisco: yes, that's where tequila is from, and it's not at all native to Yucatan. Which is not to say people don't drink it, but it is more of a tourist phenom there if you want pricey stuff. However, there's a new distillery called Licores de Henequen, making tequila-like stuff from the henequen plant, which is really just a variant of the one they make tequila from. (Or maybe botanically it's the same, but you can't call it tequila if it's not from Jalisco? I guess I should look this up.) The bottle itself says 'Sisal' on the label.

Anyway, the distillery (or one of them) is just outside of Izamal, and the seemed to be working on a tasting room with distillery tours when I was there in November... The stuff tastes pretty good--not sublime, but good for a local booze product, and it's a lot cheaper than your typical premium tequilas.

And PDC does have some very good food (Yaxche is on 8th; maybe the place across the highway mentioned is Alux, the cave place? Or La Floresta, the best freakin' fish tacos ever?)... Akumal, however, is truly hopeless.

Rancho Gordo, so glad to hear about your seed-gathering! If only I lived anywhere near where you grow. But we do have that one excellent Mexican farmer here in NYC who sells at the Greenmarket.

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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