Holy Mole; Discovering Diversity in Mexican Food.

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Holy Mole; Discovering Diversity in Mexican Food.

I thought I knew Mexican cuisine before my recent trip to Cancun.  I grew up on Mexican food.  Where I lived in Franklin, TN, La Hacienda was the only restaurant open past 8pm and therefore became a staple.  I’m fairly certain my first cocktail was a margarita at that very restaurant.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a bit that embodies what most Americans think about Mexican food.

“Mexican food’s great, but it’s essentially all the same ingredients, so you’d have to deal with all these stupid questions. “What is nachos?” “…Nachos? It’s tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Oh, well then what is a burrito?” “Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Well then what is a tostada?” “Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Well then what i-” “Look, it’s all the same! Why don’t you say a Spanish word and I’ll bring you something.” You can view it here.

It’s funny and pretty true.  The Mexican food we as Americans are typically exposed to, is usually just some configuration of tortillas and cheese, which is great, but Mexican cuisine is so much more.  My recent trip to Cancun changed all I thought I knew about Mexican food.

I experienced approximately 7 billion courses of Mexican goodness and countless variations on the margarita in my week in Cancun.  Of course 7 billion is a lot to keep track of, so I’ll just be hitting the highlights.

My Mexican culinary adventure started just a few hours off the plane at Xoximilco Cancun, which I mentioned briefly in a previous post and still intend to elaborate on.  Perhaps it was the thrill of being a foreigner alone in a strange land, or perhaps it was the all you can drink tequila, but I had my first non-roller coaster or convertible related taste of insect.

Chapulines crickets or grasshoppers fried with lime, chili, garlic, and salt.  A popular treat in the summer and early autumn in Mexico.

Chapulines- fried crickets in Mexico

 I don’t remember that on the menu at Taco Bell (at least not on purpose)!  So, it can only get better from there right?  Actually, they weren’t too bad.  In fact, they would have been good if they didn’t look so much like crickets.  They were small and fried and seasoned enough that they just tasted like corn nuts, or pork rinds.  I found them much more enjoyable in flavor than the other fear factor food they were being served with, dried fish eaten whole… eyes and all.

Dried fish and fried crickets in Mexico

Those weren’t bad either, but very fishy (go figure, huh?).  Glad I tried it, don’t need to do it again.

Fresh Seafood Much of Mexico is coastal, and that’s certainly the case where I was in Cancun.  It only makes sense that they would make good use of their access to delicious fresh seafood.  Why that hasn’t been translated to “American-Mexican” food I will never know.

Grouper Al Ajillo (with chile guaillo) at Isla Contoy at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach.

Grouper Al Ajillo at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort in Cancun, Mexico

As an added bonus, this restaurant has maybe the best view in the world, in addition to amazing seafood.

Fantastic View from Isla Contoy Restaurant at The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Lobster Tail served on sweet plantains at Ramona in Nizuc Resort and Spa

Lobster tail served on sweet plantains at Ramona at Nizuc Resort and Spa in Cancun, Mexico

Orzo Pasta Seafood Stew at El Cafe Mexicano at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun– Small oval shaped pasta, local seafood, tomato chipotle broth, lemon, arugula.

Orzo pasta seafood stew at the Ritz Carlton, Cancun

Adobe Jumbo Shrimp at El Cafe Mexicano at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun– Huitlacoche (known as the Mexican truffle and my new favorite thing!) rice, fresh corn, fava bean sauce.

Adobe Jumbo Shrimp at El Cafe Mexicano at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun

Holy Mole!-

(sorry, couldn’t resist) Okay, so I was well aware of mole before visiting Cancun, but I had forgotten how much I loved it.  It’s not super common here in the States and has certainly taken a backseat to tamales, burritos, nachos and the like.  Mole is one of my favorites and I had some of the best mole I’ve ever tasted while in Cancun.

Kobe Steak with Dark Mole, Charred Vegetables, and Coriander Foam at Ramona at Nizuc Resort and Spa.

Kobe Steak with Dark Mole, Charred Vegetables, and Coriander Foam at Ramona at Nizuc Resort and Spa

This was perhaps my favorite single dish at any of the amazing restaurants I visited in Cancun, closely tailed by the seafood stew at The Ritz.  It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Simply titled, Chicken with “Mole” at Benazuza Restaurante at the Oasis Sens

Chicken with Mole at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

Here the chef paired mole with a spicy peanut sauce, which is nothing short of genius.  Maybe it’s that peanut sauce and mole are two of my favorite things, maybe it’s the seemingly obvious “why didn’t I think of that” combination of peanut and chocolate, I don’t know, but … mind blow.  In fact, the whole Benazuza experience was so extraordinary that it warrants (and will be getting) it’s own post.  So for now I will just say, if you visit Cancun and don’t eat here, you’re missing out.

Desserts- As with most Americanized versions of ethnic foods, the Mexican desserts we’re regularly offered here leave a little to be desired.  Mexican food is way more than churros and fried ice cream!

Pastries and macaroons at The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach.

Eclair at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Chocolate Mousse "Bomb" at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Chocolate Mousse "Bomb" at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Macaroons at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Okay, I know they are not classically Mexican food, but I had them in Mexico and they were great. So, I’m counting it.

The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach is also where I discovered the Carajillo.

Carajillo 43

After a bit of research the “carajillo” seems to be a catch-all name for a cocktail of espresso and any liquor or brandy, but the local preference was Liquor 43, a vanilla flavored Spanish liquor.  This particular cocktail seems to be called a carajillo 43, but I ordered several at different places as just “carajillo” and this is what I got.  Also, it’s delicious.

Flan I know this is one we have here, but this one was coconut, and at The Ritz, and the Caribbean Sea was outside, so obviously it’s the best.

Coconut Flan at El Mexicano Cafe at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun.

Coconut Flan at El Mexicano Cafe at The Ritz Carlton Cancun

(Notice the Carajillo!)

Everything that happened at Benazuza- I know this post is a bit of a tease.  I’m saving most of the info for my post on Benazuza, but there were about 24 courses there so I think I’ve left plenty to cover.  Here’s a sneak peak.

Maracuya Pinata at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens.

Maracuya Pinata at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

This is passion fruit ice cream that comes out in a sphere that you whack open with a bat revealing fresh berries.  AMAZING!

Fruits and Vegetables Box at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens.

Fruits and Vegetables Box at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens

All of the “fruits and vegetables” are filled with different flavors of mousse or cream and laying in a crumbly nutty-chocolate “dirt”.  Really, this restaurant is so much fun!

And of course, plenty of margaritas!

Smokey Mezcal Margarita at Ramona at Nizuc Resort and Spa.

Smokey Mezcal margarita at Ramona at Nizuc Resort and Spa in Cancun, Mexico

Midori Margarita at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun.

Midori Margarita at El Cafe Mexicano at The Ritz Carlton, Cancun

Invisible Margarita at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens

Invisible Margarita at Benazuza Restaurant at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

Hot and Cold Margarita at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens

Hot and Cold Margarita at Benazuza Restaurant at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

Hot and Cold Margarita at Benazuza Restaurant at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

Paloma at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach

Paloma at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

(That last one is not technically a margarita, but palomas need love too)

I was very pleasantly surprised by a lot of things on my first trip to Cancun, but most of all the food.  It is not all street tacos and tequila shots (though I had my fair share of those too).

Tequila Shots with LIme Jello Chaser at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens,

Tequila Shots with LIme Jello Chaser at Benazuza Restaurante at Oasis Sens in Cancun, Mexico

There’s everything from street vendors selling roasted corn to haute cuisine and molecular gastronomy.  I made a promise to myself long ago to never use the phrase “a land of contrast”, so let’s just say there was a lot more diversity in this city than I had anticipated.

Having spent the first part of my stay at the Mezcal Hostel downtown and the last few days at the lovely Oasis Sens Resort in the Hotel Zone, I got a small dose of all the different things Cancun has to offer and it definitely left me wanting more.

Many thanks to the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau and Experiencias  Xcaret/Xoximilco for inviting me to all of the amazing culinary experiences in Cancun.  As always, all opinions are my own.

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7 thoughts on “Holy Mole; Discovering Diversity in Mexican Food.

  1. Mags I completely agree with you and I believe that Mexican food is one of the best in the world. But to find that out I had to actually visit Mexico and eat what the locals eat. To my big surprise it was all very different from what we would at home in a restaurant and best of all, everything was amazingly delicious… 🙂
    Dennis Kopp recently posted…Homemade Campervan Conversion of a VW T4My Profile

    • Mags

      Exactly,
      I don’t know why that hasn’t made it’s way to Mexican restaurants here! I guess it just gives me a reason to go back. 🙂

  2. Looks like you found some great stuff. We tried the crickets too when we went inland after TBEX. Not too bad… as bugs go.
    The GypsyNesters recently posted…Sumo Warriors: My Japanese Wrestling EducationMy Profile

    • Mags

      Right? They were actually pretty good if you didn’t think about what you were eating.

  3. […] Worm, that I believed was a real worm for way too long, even after I ate it.  To be fair though, I was fed crickets earlier in my trip, and I’ve adopted a pretty “when in Rome” attitude about […]

  4. […] everything and it was a long time after I got back before my phone stopped sending me to yahoo Mexico.  The struggle is […]

  5. I’m so glad for this post. When we visited Yucatan and ate mostly street food, they put chili on everything so it kinda all tasted the same. I had the hardest time to eat coconut with chili. I thought there’s gotta be more to mexican cuisine. Do you know by any chance what is the sauce Mole made of? I ‘ll definitely try some of these next time I’m in Mexico.

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