Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yucatecan food

Americans whose only experience with Mexican food is from "Mexican restaurants" in the United States have no idea what genuine Mexican cuisine is.  There is so much more to Mexican cooking than tacos and enchiladas.  And some of the dishes that regularly appear on menus in Mexican restaurants north of the border aren't even Mexican!  (What the heck is a "chimichanga"?)   UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Culture Organization) recently named Mexican cuisine as a cultural treasure of the world.  The cuisine is further enriched by the fact that each region of the country has its own specialties.

The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico was isolated from the rest of the country for centuries, and so it's not surprising that it developed its own unique dishes.  Even though many of the same ingredients are used (tortillas, frijoles, chiles, etc.) Yucatecan cooking can be considered a separate cuisine of its own.  It would seem that Yucatecan food is being discovered by the residents of Mexico City, because there are an increasing number of Yucatecan restaurants here.  (One that I can recommend is Xel Ha in the colonia Condesa.)

There are a couple of Yucatecan restaurants within walking distance of my apartment.  Last night Alejandro came to the apartment after work, and we decided to try one of them for supper.  We went to the Restaurante Bar Montejo located on Avenida Benjamin Franklin (yes, you read that correctly, Benjamin Franklin.).

I ordered a Xtabentún on the rocks.  Xtabentún is a Mayan honey liqueur.  I'm not much of a drinker but I do like Xtabentún.  Since I ordered a drink, it is customary to be served a free "botana" or snack.  They served us a plate of "chicharrones de harina"... fake pork rinds made from flour.  I had never heard of them before but they were tasty and, I suppose, healthier than real pork rinds.  To accompany the "chicharrones", there was a bowl of "salsa de habanero".  The habanero chile pepper is typical of the Yucatán, and is reputed to be the hottest chile pepper in the world.  I cautiously tried a bit of the salsa on a "chicharrón", and was surprised to discover that although it was definitely "picante", it was not incendiary.  As a first course, we ordered "sopa de lima", a chicken soup flavored with lime, the most typical soup of the Yucatán.  It was very good.

For our main course we both ordered "pan de cazón", a specialty of the state of Campeche on the Gulf coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.  "Cazón" is a small type of shark sometimes referred to as dogfish.  In this dish it is served between layers of tortillas and covered with a tomato sauce.  You might say that it's a bit like lasagna, but with a fish filling and tortillas instead of pasta.  I've had "pan de cazón" in Campeche, and it is delicious.  At this restaurant, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great.  In addition, the prices here were rather high, so I don't think that we will return.

We ended the evening with a stop at a neighborhood ice cream shop.  They had a wide variety of flavors, many of which you would not find in the United States.  And they had my favorite flavor... "mamey"!  "Mamey" is a tropical fruit that is unknown north of the border.  I can't really describe the flavor, but if you are ever in Mexico, try it!!   

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