Friday, February 5, 2010

Foodie Fridays: The Yucatan!

Abby and Shevin initially bonded over their mutual love of boba during their freshman year at USC and have since been together and enjoying all of LA's wonderful culinary offerings. They both love to travel, explore, and most importantly eat!

It seemed like a great idea for FoundTrack to introduce a food column. Let's face it, those of us who enjoy art, film, fashion, and music usually have a soft spot for great dining experiences as well. So now, these two young Angelenos will have the chance to share some of their favorite tasty spots in LA with all of you fun people through Foodie Fridays.

If you have any recommendations you think should be considered for the column, please send an email to foodiefridays at foundtrack dot com. Eat on.


For this very special Foodie Fridays post, we're heading to Mexico!

Post holidays, I embarked on a five day culinary tour through the Yucatan with my boyfriend, Ben. We flew in to Cancun but quickly escaped its Times-Square-by-the-Sea trappings of American chain restaurants. We pointed our taste buds towards some less explored territories of this incredibly popular vacation destination.

If its geographic surroundings didn't make it obvious, the Yucatan is home to amazing seafood. It's a world where shrimp and fish tacos seem to be as abundant as the palm trees and hammocks that line the white sand beaches.

Travel more inland, and you'll find dishes that harken back to the region's Mayan ancestry. Mayan food may not be as spicy as other regional cuisines of Mexico, but its bright colors and rustic flavors are delicious, and some recipes have gone unchanged for hundreds of years.

My first stop was a food market in the city of Valladolid, located near the jungles of Chichen Itza. It was housed in a large open space in the town center that was reminiscent of mall food courts, except it only featured locally owned restaurants (no chains in sight!).

Families and friends filled the cafeteria space and we ordered from one of the several store fronts that were permeated with delicious aromas.

Below is the sampler plate Ben ordered which included a delicious homemade pork sausage called longaniza de Valladolid, both the pork and chicken variations of the traditional Yucatan pibil, a hard boiled egg, salad, tortillas and white rice. The sausage was rich, bacony, and earthy... probably because this type of sausage is traditionally cooked in an underground pit. It was delicious, not to mention it was only about five dollars!

I ordered a full portion of the pollo pibil: an authentic dish of the Yucatan. It consists of chicken covered with grilled onions and marinated in a bright red sauce derived from achiote, orange juice and several ancient spices.

The intense redness is inspired by the bold colors of the Mayan culture, a common theme in a lot of traditional dishes in this part of Mexico. It's not as spicy as its color would lead you to believe, but delicious hints of garlic and citrus tickled the palate. Yum!

To drink, we ordered freshly blended Chaya juice. Chaya is a leafy vegetable that is prevalent in Mayan cuisine due to its abundance on the peninsula. It's sort of like a lemony version of spinach chock full of vitamins and minerals. It was sweet and frothy... a great way to enjoy your veggies!

Another one of my favorite meals of the trip was the garlic sauteed conch we ate while visiting Isla Holbox, a small, undeveloped island fishing village off the Yucatan's northern coast. Conch is the shell fish that lives inside those big beautiful shells often used as horns. I had tried conch chowder before, in which the conch meat is minced. But until this trip, I had never seen large slabs of grilled conch. The texture was chewy and comparable to squid, and the flavor was a buttery garlic goodness. Rice and salad were served on the side.

Last, but not least, I must include the quintessential Mexican taco stand. In this culture, not a single part of the pig goes to waste. José's stand located in the town center on Isla Hoxbox offered whatever part of the pig you were in the mood for. While tongue, intestines, and ear were all "delicacies" I was previously aware of, hoof and snout were new to me, and Ben was brave enough to sample!

As sad as I was to leave the culinary treats of the Yucatan, at least I could return to some delicious Mexican food here in LA. I can always hit up El Chato, our favorite taco truck at Olympic and La Brea. For those of you wanting to try some of the specialties of the Yucatan you just read about, I highly recommend Chichen Itza at the Mercado La Paloma by USC. See you there!

NEXT TIME on Foodie Fridays: We're heading to the Westside to sample NY & C Pizza in Santa Monica.

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