People don’t often recommend that you visit a place on an overcast day. Unfortunately for those of us who live in central Mexico, many summer afternoons are filled with gray days composed of O’Keefe-esque cloud formations and a serious chance of rain. But the town of El Mineral de Pozos, with its whitewashed adobe houses, crouching around the tiny, and in this season, electric green plaza are nicely contrasted by an overcast horizon and rolling clouds.
I first discovered Enrique Olvera at Mistura, Lima’s annual gastronomy festival, a few years ago. He gave a presentation on Mexican food that echoed many of the same sentiments I was seeing in Peru about rediscovering native ingredients. He seemed cool too. Not in the least bit cocky, as many Latin American chefs can be. Pujol has been on the top of my Mexico City restaurant list ever since. The restaurant is now a decade old as Olvera opened it right after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Come September in Mexico, the time is right for a food pilgrimage to the city of Puebla for Chiles en Nogada. Trying to find the best food in Mexico is like trying to find the best beer in Germany or the best tea in China. Impossible, you say? Well, Chiles en Nogada is a poblano pepper stuffed with a mix of ground beef and pork, nuts, and fruit, including apple, pear, peach, and plantain (a banana for cooking). Then it is drenched in a walnut sauce and sprinkled with parsley and pomegranate. Distinct flavors are represented – spicy, sweet, savory. The colors of Chiles en Nogada – the white walnut sauce, the red pomegranate, and the green parsley – correspond to the Mexican flag.
Mexican food is a complex cuisine with so many regional variations that it would be crazy to try to sum it all up in a book. So instead, what Roberto Santibañez did in his latest book “Truly Mexican”, was to focus in what he believes lays the backbone of Mexican food: its sauces and salsas. These are, according to Santibañez, what different dishes share in common. He doesn’t strive to offer a comprehensive guide of all Mexican sauces either, what he intends to do is to teach us the fundamentals, the basic techniques that will allow us to understand and enjoy Mexican cuisine, and in doing so getting the necessary skills to master other recipes as well.
At the 2nd floor restaurant in the Hotel Basico in Playa del Carmen, called Marisqueria, which is basically a mock food cart serving up Mexican street foods with a contemporary touch alongside tequila cocktails overlooking a much less authentic Quinta Avenida, I first came across the aguachile. The aquachile (agua=water, chile=chile pepper) is, for the most part, a type of spicy cebiche using either shrimp or scallops. Best served cold or room temperature, the dish pairs sliced green Serrano chilies and limejuice, and, much like a ceviche, the shrimp or scallops are soaked in the mixture.
Freddy’s bar at Orient Express’ Maroma Resort and Spa on the Riviera Maya seems a little bit out of ordinary compared with the bars of the neighboring resorts. While Corona and fried chicken wings are being served elsewhere, Freddy’s has a Tequila and Ceviche Bar with more than 100 tequilas paired with a daily variety of six exotic Ceviches created by Executive Chef Chef Juan Pablo Loza.
On an almost unbearably hot day on the Riviera Maya, I came across the Refresco, a tequila based cocktail at Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s Sands restaurant, where the infinity pool joins with the turquoise blue Caribbean water to meet the horizon. As it’s name would lead you to believe, the cocktail is indeed refreshing. Here’s what you need to put in your glass: