Grubbing in Guatemala

I must’ve been a gypsy in a past life or rolled with some sort of nomadic tribe, because if it were up to me, I’d roam the earth and live out of a suitcase.

If I had the right kind of job, or the right kind of bank account, I would probably do just that but since I don’t, whenever I do get the chance to travel and go somewhere different, somewhere new, somewhere far, every particle of my being revels in it.

And in what will be surprising to pretty much no one, one of my favorite aspects of traveling is eating. Even in a city like New York, where the cuisines of the world are available to me, still nothing beats eating local.


I’m always happy to go.

When a good friend decided to get married in Antigua, Guatemala, a Central American country I’d never been to, I was just as excited about being a part of his big day as I was about exploring and eating my way around town.

There was lots of good food involved over the course of the long weekend I was there, everything from junk food like Doritos with funny names and peanuty snacks called Double Nuts to elegant and delicious wedding rehearsal and reception dinners to some pretty serious drinks, like the hilarious-to-say Cuchurucho, a cocktail of tequila, rum, vodka, triple sec, gin, red wine and hibiscus liqueur. (The Guatemalan Black Out, if you will.)

But my favorite meal of the trip, due to price, ambiance, and most importantly food, was a casual lunch at Rincon Tipico.


Chicken, potatos, and guac with a cup of horchata? Si por favor.

While most places took credit cards and dollars, this place only took local currency, the Guatemalan quetzal. A little inconvenient since no one in our group had any, but I took it as a good sign anyway.  Instead of a menu, the waiter rattled of  in Spanish the only three or four options. (Another good sign if you ask me.) The place itself just looked like the real deal. It was homey and colorful, hot under the midday sun and only slightly breezy from ceiling-rigged fans. A no-nonsense looking woman pounded away at fresh corn flour, grilling it into tortillas on a large flat top that was so hot I don’t know how she didn’t melt standing over it.

And when our food arrived, with baskets of warm, fresh tortillas and plastic cups of cool creamy, cinnamony horchata (all you can drink, by the way), I was smitten.

I went with the chicken option, partly because I could see a giant wall of splayed out  chickens roasting in the open kitchen, the fiery heat contributing to the temperature at the tables, and the smell was wafting around me and making my stomach growl. And when it came out, served in a sturdy, no frills, terracotta like plate, the giant chunk of chicken was roasted to a perfect golden crisp, the meat underneath plump and delicious. With it, a generous plop of fresh ground guacamole and juicy, roasted potatoes.

It was simple food and it was great, nothing wildly inventive or groundbreaking, but deliciously satisfying, comforting and filling. And with the bottomless horchata included, it also came in at just about $4.

Even in New York, I don’t know where I would have found that. So maybe I did have to travel 2,000 miles to properly enjoy it and I’m more than happy to keep doing it as often as I can.

The highlights reel

I was in Mexico for just one week yet I came away with enough delicious material to go on posting about it for at least another couple of weeks. But alas, I won’t. Instead I’ll end the reminiscing with a collection of some of the best stuff we had during our little Yucatan/ Riviera Maya jaunt.

Enchiladas verdes at El Cuerno de Oro in Playa del Carmen

 In Playa del Carmen Flaneur had the above pictured enchiladas verdes and I had the below pictured enchiladas de molè at a no-frills, definitely-not-trendy restaurant just a couple of streets off the main tourist area (known as Quinta Avenida, or yup, Fifth Avenue). The green ones were good—tangy, zesty and perfectly gooey and cheesy—but the ones in molè, a sauce made of chocolate and chilies, spoke directly to me. A little spicy and a little sweet. Yes please.

Enchiladas al mole at El Cuerno de Oro in Playa del Carmen

In Tulum, a smallish, quiet town with a laid back vibe, we had a heated-at-the-table dish for two at a place called El Mariachi. (No actual mariachi bands were involved, thankfully). Instead there were strips of chicken breast, pork and chorizo topped with avocado, lemon and tomato for bright, colorful flavors and spicy, seasoned meats, served with refried beans, rice and corn tortillas.

Parrilladas del campo at El Mariachi in Tulum

Then there was the flan at Squimoz in Valladolid. Oh that flan… so creamy in flavor but smooth and thick in consistency. So sweet, almost buttery, just perfect. So… exactly what I could eat every day.

Flan at Squimoz in Valladolid

Below, after a day sweating it out under the relentless sun at the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, Flaneur ordered this colorful and traditional Yucatecan dish in Valladoli, cochinita pibil with rice and sweet plantains. Pork meat is marinated in all sorts of juices, bitter oranges, seasonings and spices and then wrapped in plantain leaves before being slow roasted so that the end result is incredibly juicy, soft meat that really almost melts in your mouth… while you almost melt into your chair.

Cochinita pibil at Plaza Maya Restaurant in Valladolid

At the same restaurant, Plaza Maya Restaurant in Valladolid, I had the poc chuc, a funny sounding dish also typical of Yucatecan cooking. Like the cochinita pibil, poc chuc features pork but instead of being roasted it’s grilled. It’s not as tender as the cochinita but because it’s also marinated in sour oranges and citrus juices, it has that similar flavor and zest.

Horchata at Parque de las Palapas in Cancun
Last, but most certainly not least, was my favorite non-alcoholic drink of the trip: horchata. (Yes, between the frosty beers and the salt-rimmed margaritas there were indeed a few drinks of the non boozy variety.) It looks semi-sketchy in this unmarked (possibly reused?) bottle, but I threw caution to the wind (perhaps not always a smart idea when regarding food and drinks in Mexico…) and guzzled it anway. You know why? Cause that milky sweet almondy drink was delicious, and on those sweltering days, the perfect creamy, cold cure to beat the heat.
So there it is, that’s everything from a pretty perfect vacation. Eso es todo, folks! Hasta la proxima!