The Art of Snacking – Day 7, Merida
The streets of Merida are much like Puebla: small, narrow and packed in tight. The buildings here are only two to three stories high, so as you walk it feels like a maze. The other fun part is that the streets are all numbered, at least in the central district of town. We did not find out until much later in the day that it is actually really easy to navigate, as odd numbered streets run north-south and even ones run east-west. We could have figured that out, but instead we wandered around, always making sure we knew which direction home was.
At first it seemed hard to find much in the way of food. The city was hot and sweaty and it appeared like most restaurants were shut down. We had a simple breakfast on the square—Huevos Veracruz, which consisted of egg and potato enchiladas smothered in bean sauce with chorizo on top. They served it with vegetable escabeche. No wow factor here but good stuff nonetheless.
Later in the day our mission was clear: to hit as many spots as possible and have a bite or two at each one. First was a large restaurant that looked like it had cheap eats and beer. And a cold beer was well in order due to the heat on the streets. The menu was geared more towards a sit-down meal, but we picked the Panuchos and Sikil Pak, two local specialties.
Panuchos are one of my favorite dishes that nobody knows about. It is simple, really: take a corn tortilla and flash fry it and watch it quickly puff up. You then stuff it with refried beans and top it with shredded chicken and pickled onions. From there the rest is up to interpretation.
Sikil Pak is a traditional Yucatan salsa or spread similar in texture to hummus. It consists of roasted pepitas, chilies, tomatoes, onion and cilantro. The version we had here was made tableside, which I enjoyed, but it was seriously lacking in salt and lime juice.
Finally, as the sun started to set, the city began to come to life. We have come to discover that people of the Yucatan are total night owls. Every restaurant was hopping, there was live music everywhere and the entire vibe of the city took a 180.
I had done a little research and found a spot called La Negrita, highlighted by live music and little snacks. As we walked in, the party was bumping, people were dancing and drinks were flowing. I noticed several servers carrying around trays of little snacks, and I instantly got excited. The food was nothing special but it was fun. We ordered a little fritter that tasted like falafel, mixed ceviche with shrimp, fish and octopus and by mistake a side of fries. On top of that they gave us a bowl of puffed crackers drenched in hot sauce and pineapple soaked in habanero. It was all fun, but nothing to write home about.
Just as we were ready to move to the next spot we got a call from Cade Beerman that he had landed and was ready to hit the town. Cade is a good friend and mentor and a badass chef. He is the Culinary Director of the Big Red F and a huge driving force behind Centro, The West End Tavern, and Zolo Grill.
La Exquina was recommended by a local business owner Cade had befriended on the plane, and it did not disappoint. We ordered panuchos, tacos and sopa de lima. All of it was great. Bold flavors, perfectly seasoned and simple. The pok chok is a local favorite—and now ours as well. Thinly shaved strips of pork marinated in chiles and lime, grilled on the plancha with onions. This is dynomyte— rich, deep flavors, bright from the citrus and chilies.
I have a new favorite taco, too. We were so excited we forgot to take photos, and we have realized we have so much here to discover that we are investing our time in Merida instead of departing for Campeche as planned.
Stay tuned as we will be visiting the local market in the morning and preparing some classic dishes ourselves.