Snackin’ in the Yucatán

Mexico is a snacking wonderland. From the ubiquitous taco stand to a wide variety of regional treats, antojitos can be found virtually everywhere. Wikipedia sums up antojitos perfectly: “a Mexican street snack designed to satisfy a craving“.

Granted, our first stop isn’t “exactly” street food, but comes damn close.

As we were wandering the streets of Piste, near Chichen Itza, I had an intense craving for Pollo Carbon (Grilled Chicken). We passed by a few empty spots with some dodgy looking poultry on half-warm grills. After nearly giving up, we spotted smoke billowing from a thatched hut a block away. At the very front of the small restaurant an older lady was tending the grill. Three or four whole, butterflied birds were slowly being cooked to perfection over smouldering charcoal. Heaven.

Sometimes the best places don’t even require a name.

As we approached, salivary glands went into overdrive. I was literally drooling. I just stood there enveloped in the mouthwatering, smoky aroma. Looking around the few occupied tables, I noticed everyone was digging into a shared platter. As there was no menu and no signage whatsoever, we ordered a whole chicken.

After a torturous ten minutes, our platter arrived. Along with the bird, there was rice, lettuce, tomato, limes and a stack of fresh, hot tortillas. All the add-ons were completely unnecessary…that’s how good the chicken was. Maybe a spritz of lime or a dollop of salsa roja here and there, that’s about it. Exceptional.

About midway through, I knew one bird wasn’t enough. Another was ordered to nosh on after poolside drinks back at the hotel. Total tab for two whole birds, accoutrements as well as drinks…fifteen bucks.

Another massive Mexican craving is al Pastor.

Alongside the main market in Merida is a long row of snacks stands. Most of them are purveyors of al Pastor. Al pastor is made generally with the same technique used for shawarmas or gyros…slowly spinning towers of meat. Here, slabs of pork are marinated in chiles, vinegar, garlic, cumin and clove and set next to the fire.

The shaved al Pastor is served in tortas, nachos, quesadillas and today’s favorite, tacos.

Tacos al Pastor with the requisite corn tortillas, cilantro and onion. Why we weren’t given the obligatory pineapple remains a mystery!

The best way to get your fill of antojitos is by strolling through Merida’s Plaza Grande on a Sunday afternoon.

The plaza’s center is filled with with vendors selling clothing, artwork, jewelry and assorted knick-knacks. The perimeter is where the food’s at.

Sensational corn dogs dipped in mustard were a perfect starter. Hot and crunchy on the outside with a soft, tender corn filling. Best and by far the cheapest I’ve come across.

Fresh outta the fryer are always the best way to enjoy churros…Mexico’s version of the donut. Crunchy, sugary and very addictive.

It’s so hard to enjoy a month-old bag of chips after a sack of these.

Every kid’s favourite…fried hot dogs and french fries.

This is one antojito I just couldn’t get my head around. Elotes en Vaso (corn in a cup) is a combination of flavours and textures I don’t think I’ll soon revisit.

Corn, chile powder, lime juice, parmesan and mayonnaise. Yeesh. The display cup looked real good, actually! Corn, chile and lime might’ve been just fine…the mayo and huge spoonful of parm didn’t work too well.

Another local favourite is the Marquesita.

As we were enjoying some delicious food and beverages at La Parranda, a trio of vendors wheeled up across the street. Seems they were all putting up the same snack.

Marquesitas are made with a waffle batter, pressed into a “crepe” in a heavy iron press. They’re then rolled up with your choice of fillers. Along with the prerequisite shredded Edam you can choose from Nutella, marshmallow spread, chocolate and peanut butter. The mix of sweet and savoury along with the crisp waffle works perfectly.

Here’s a video that shows how it’s made.

Wherever you go in the Yucatán, a huge array of delicious food awaits. Be not afraid. Dive in!!

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