Many visitors and residents of the Riviera Maya,located along Mexico’s Caribbean coast on the Yucatan Peninsula,come in search of authentic Mayan fare,but knowing what is “real” and what is watered down to suit the palates of international travelers can be challenging,even for a true foodie.
If you’re lucky,you will get to experience cochinita pibil,which is a traditional feast food made from chili-marinated pork that is buried and cooked in an earthen pit,but the truth is there is much more to the story behind Mayan cuisine. To get the real experience,it helps to take a day trip away from the resort towns that are located along the coast and hire a guide to help you locate a village where the majority of the population is still Mayan. Despite the presence of modern amenities,such as electricity and paved roads,in these enclaves much of the farming and the food are still pre-Columbian and very traditionally Mayan.
Villages that lie just a couple of hours from hotspots like Cancun will take you back to another time,with people choosing to stay relatively isolated from the crowds and to live much as they have for thousands of years. It’s hard to imagine that just 50 miles away,life is almost identical to what you would find in any major city in the U.S. This is just one more reason why Riviera Maya real estate is truly “the best of both worlds.”
Many of the villagers will still grow their own food,keeping bees,tending fruit trees and planting what the Native Americans called the “holy trinity” or “three sisters” crop of corn,beans and squash. It is essential to sample masa,which is the traditional Mayan dough made from dried corn,as well as tamales and tortillas,which are cooked in banana leaves and the leaves of chaya. The tamales are seasoned by yerba santa,which has a magnificent aroma,and roasted tomatoes with squash seeds are standard for the homemade salsa,known as sikli’ p’aak. Polkanes are another popular Mayan dish among those in the know,which are similar to a hush puppy. Depending on where you go,the dishes could vary greatly,but anyone with a mildly adventurous palate is sure to be delighted by the complex flavors and mouth-watering aromas.
The best thing about venturing off the beaten path to sample traditional Mayan fare? Coming away with an experience that cannot be easily replicated and knowing that you enjoyed a meal that has been shared among this ancient culture for countless generations.
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