THOR Advantage
The Mexican Culinary Scene is Second to None
By Doreen Pendgracs

I can’t think of another destination that oers such a wide array of unique and authentic culinary options as Mexico.

It’s likely that many have heard of molé—said to have been invented in Oaxaca--but widely available across the country. The thick and rich molé sauce is most often served on chicken. Its distinctive avor comes from Mexican cooking chocolate or cocoa, along with a selection of dried chili peppers blended with tomatoes and spices. Some places make it extremely hot using Barossa peppers - just a small amount gives o a tremendous amount of heat. Other places use Chipotle peppers to add a mild, smoky heat. Given the variety of cooking styles, it’s important to ask what kind of peppers are used in the molé rather than how hot it is when ordering, as someone else’s tolerance and preference for heat may far exceed your own.

Another famous Mexican tradition are the street vendors. I have eaten at some the nest restaurants throughout the country, and can honestly say that the food oered by the street vendors is on par. One of my favorite meals was a seafood taco from a street vendor in Puerto Vallarta that cost a grand total of $3.50 and featured fresh-caught shrimp, octopus and squid served with the freshest-ever guacamole. So, don’t be afraid to try the street food in Mexico. It is a way of life for the locals, and a great way to eat authentically without the high price tag of a fancy restaurant.

When you do want to eat in style, and money is no object, restaurants like La Leche - a star of Mexico’s Pacic Coast in Puerto Vallarta - oer fusion cuisine in the nouveau Mexican style. Our group was treated to a multi-course meal that was delightful in every way and ended with a chocolate dessert that still has my head spinning.

In the Guadalajara area, you will nd excellent Mexican cuisine in the eclectic artisan village of Tlaquepaque. I loved the Molcajete served at Rio San Pedro Restaurant and Bar. This sizzling hot pot features grilled Nopal Cactus and fabulous grilled prawns. Pair that with a Leon Cerveza Negra (a dark Germanstyle beer made by the Corona company) and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

There is more food fun for the whole family in Tlaquepaque, as you watch the fresh tamales being made at Maria Tamales. There are 28 dierent cornleaf wrapped recipes in three dierent styles: traditional, vegetarian, and sweet. Also in Tlaquepaque, I ate my rst Channassi agave worm fried in oil and Reposado Tequila, made by a chef at the Villa del Ensueño who enjoys the art of entomophagy (the art of cooking with insects). These massive worms were certainly more enjoyable than the crunchy fried grasshoppers I was also oered at this restaurant.

Another great destination for foodies is the city of Mérida where authentic Yucatan specialties are featured. We enjoyed La Chaya Maya Comida Yucateca, a very popular restaurant with the locals. Mexicans eat tortillas every day of the year, so it was no surprise that our meal began with thick taco chips, but the unique touch at La Chaya Maya was the roasted pumpkin seed purée topped with tomato that was served with them. It is called Sikil pak on the menu and is excellent! Our main course was pibil, a traditional Mayan dish of pork that is avored with citrus, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted while buried in a pit.

In addition to the traditional Yucatan dishes, Mérida is also known to have the best hot chocolate around. For a light snack, and the nest hot chocolate and chocolate delicacies you can imagine, visit any one of the three ki’Xocolatl locations in Mérida listed on their website at www.kixocolatl.com.

Along the Gulf Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll nd the Mayan Riviera where excellent iced hot chocolate shines at Ah Cacao in Playa del Carmen. Ah Cacao has a nice café with indoor and outdoor seating, which is great for people watching. Look for wonderful Mexican coee to consume onsite or to purchase by the pound, and terric brownies and chocolate bars made from locally grown cocoa. The Mayan variety of chocolate bar is very Mexican, very authentic, and very delicious with the perfect blend of chili, vanilla and cinnamon. The best meal we had in the region was at Restaurante Pelicanos on the beach in Puerto Morelos: freshly grilled sh right o the sherman’s boat and fantastic drinks in a lovely setting at reasonable prices.

And no exploration of Mexican cuisine is complete without a visit to Mexico City. The largest city on the North American continent oers a plethora of culinary styles and avors ranging from fantastic street food to haute cuisine. I really enjoyed Que Bo! For its authentic Mexican hot chocolate and handmade sweets, but was sorry I hadn’t made a reservation at the uber-popular Pujol, a highend world class restaurant in the Polanco neighborhood where there are many excellent eclectic culinary oerings. The menu changes regularly and is posted online at www.pujol.com.mx/en/.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for some of the best places to nd the most incredible and diverse culinary oerings in Mexico. Be brave, be curious, and try something outside your comfort zone for the most memorable experiences this land of vibrant avors has to oer.

Doreen Pendgracs is a regular contributor to THOR and is a specialist in chocolate travel. Find her site at http://chocolatour.net.

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