Hello again world! Despite my blogging silence, I’ve actually traveled quite a bit over the past couple of years, pandemic and all! Thus, it’s time to bring new life, color, and more food destinations and experiences to A Savory Planet. Starting with a fresh post on Mexico! If you love tacos, tropical fruit, and mole, this post is for you!
We recently found ourselves in lovely Playa del Carmen for an amazing destination wedding (that I was a part of) and decided to make a trip out of it. On our last day in the area, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the city from a local perspective and of course, indulge in the local food specialties. Where is Playa del Carmen, you may ask? Smack in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula (about an hour outside of Cancun). It’s got about 300,000 residents and serves as a really conveniently-located starting off point to explore that part of the country. My favorite feature – it’s got a ferry that takes you to the neighboring island of Cozumel, home to a part of the second-largest coral reef in the world, so excellent snorkeling and diving.
Because of its location, Playa del Carmen serves as an excellent tourism hub and thus a city with people from all over Mexico and that equals great food diversity.
We booked our tour through Airbnb experiences with a company called Eating with Carmen Food Tours where our host Enrique not only took us around to sample all the local tasty stuff, but also told us about the history of Playa del Carmen and took us through local neighborhoods to show us how people actually live in this city. I highly recommend them if you’re looking for authentic food tours in the area. Below you can see some street art from local neighborhoods that really resonated with me.
We started the day off with some refreshing hibiscus tea and stopped at our first spot to try a very simple classic – the quesadilla. Of course, this being a food tour centered around discovering the most local, authentic dishes, Enrique ordered our quesadillas with something special inside – huitlacoche. Huitlacoche is a naturally-occurring fungus that grows in corn and is considered a delicacy in the Mexican cuisine. It’s black in color and has the texture of a soft mushroom, as you would expect, and a very mild, earthy flavor. Paired with a sampling of hot sauces, this was a great way to start off the tour.
Next came my most-awaited stop – mole! Somehow, in my 32 years of life, up until that moment I’ve managed to have never tried mole so I was well aware that I was missing out, and of course, it exceeded all my expectations.
The origins of this sauce are a bit convoluted – there are multiple stories – but the most commonly told one is that, like all amazing food creations, it came from a case of desperation. A covent in Puebla, Mexico had a last-minute arrival of a high-ranking priest and had to scramble to put a decent meal together for him. The nuns rummaged around their pantry and kitchen and scraped together everything they had, including various smoked chiles, cacao, and a number of other herbs and spices and created the first ever mole sauce. Today, there are 7 definitive Oaxacan categories of mole, including red mole, green mole, black mole, mole chichilo, mole amarillo, mole coloradito, and mole manchamantel. I had the absolute please of trying a classic black mole. The taste is a very unique one, with hints of cacao of course, smokiness from all the dried peppers, and a background of tamarind, which I was told, was one of the ingredients. The rest vary from recipe to recipe and each family/restaurant take great pride in excelling their recipes as Enrique shared with us. Any mole recipe usually contains 30+ ingredients that are mixed together and cooked low and slow so it is quite a daunting task to try to make mole at home, but I am determined to attempt this one day.
After the absolute joy of mole, we were on to the next stop to refresh our palettes with agua fresca – fresh fruit juices made with any and all kinds of local fruit combinations.
With our thirst quenched and our palettes cleansed, we were on to the main event – tacos! Our first stop was a street vendor specializing in carne asada and many other animal parts I can’t recall now – I was in love from the first bite! Common toppings were fresh diced onions and cilantro and a variety of salsas, ranging from green to various levels of spicy red.
Then we were onto carnitas at a local spot specializing in everything pork! Salsa verde was definitely my favorite, with just a squeeze of fresh lime – that’s all it really took to make the pork really pop!
To finish off the tour, Enrique made a stop for paletas – fruit popsicles – and let us reflect on the day’s experience. I chose a coconut one and my husband picked the spicy mango.
All in all, it was an incredibly delicious and interesting way to learn a little bit more about Playa del Carmen and the highlights of some of Mexico’s most renowned dishes – I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great guided experience.