Back and better than ever, now that I’m not living in a fever haze! The past two weeks were not great, healthwise. I had a 101.8-degree fever as I boarded the plane for Mexico, and thank god Alex shepherded me through the airport because I was heavily sedated (#trauma). I have a foggy memory of eating a Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut (chocolate) as I sat in the Ft. Lauderdale airport; after that, my mind is a blank. A week in the sun set me right, though, and before long I regained the appetite that had vanished a week prior.
Alex and I spent the bulk of our trip at Cabanas Tulum in a cabana just feet from the beach. Freaking bliss! When I was younger — sixteen, say — I eschewed sunny vaca locales, thinking them “too pedestrian” or something. I can safely say that, as a 16-year-old, I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. Tropical vacations rule. (I suppose the pressures of Adult Lyfe inure one to holidays whose main selling points are lack of internet connectivity, good weather, and free-flowing rum.)My favorite meal of the trip was also the simplest, w/r/t preparation and setting. We’d spent the morning exploring (by car) the area just beyond Tulum; with the AC cranked up, we rattled past bus shelters constructed of corrugated tin, primary-hued shacks, and “Highway Maize” — my ueberscientific classification of the cornlike plant growing along the road. Was it maize? I had no way of knowing, my iPhone being locked in Airplane Mode. Back in Tulum, we stopped at Carnitas Merchant for a quick, late lunch.Our tacos were strikingly simple, nothing more than carnitas on pillow-soft corn tortillas. The proprietor brought us a tray of salsa verde (fairly hot), limes, and chopped white onions with cilantro. I relished squeezing the last bit of juice from the limes, letting the fruit’s pulp dot the meat. A. and I sat at a dusty plastic table — the sort you might find poolside at a run-down Days Inn — and drank sun-heated bottled water. Not the most glamorous environment, certainly, but the tortillas were so fresh and the pork so juicy (without being overtly fatty) that I wouldn’t have minded sitting on the curb. Pork, lime juice, and snappy white onions: it was a beautiful meal.In that heat, my hair was a damp pelt. Sweat sheened the bridge of my nose. I polished off the rest of my water and hit the gelateria — I’d make several return trips — where I got a coneful of cookies & cream: lush and drippy and full of intact, softened cookies. The entire lunch cost about $5 USD.
El Tabano! occupies a different spot on the formality spectrum. Set back from the road, the restaurant boasts scattered votives, mismatched chairs (vintage, all), and tables crafted from repurposed signs. Featuring Caribbean-influenced Mexican cuisine, the menu has offerings for vegetarians and carnivores alike, as well as a full bar.
On a previous trip to Tulum, Alex ate at El Tabano! several times, primarily for the stuffed jalapeno. The pepper, cleaned of seeds and veins, is filled with a spicy beef mixture, then breaded and deep-fried, then gently drizzled with sour cream and flecked with black sesame seeds. Unlike fried jalapenos here, this pepper was soft — mushy, even. Mushy in the best possible way.
I was a fan of the stuffed pepper, but I enjoyed the stuffed, fried plantains even more. Plantains are a rarity in my diet, despite their prevalence here (and in most places with decent supermarkets). Why the scarcity? Most likely because I didn’t grow up with plantains — didn’t try them until college, perhaps? — and because I’d never had them in their stuffed form.
What were they stuffed with, you ask? CHEESE. That’s right: the plantains were slit, filled, and deep fried, their exteriors a coffee brown, their texture puddinglike. They were served alongside rice and rich black beans. I enjoyed them, sliced into uniform rounds, with a glass of white wine.
Honesty strikes: not all dishes at El Tabano! were so delectable. The gazpacho, though a vibrant rusty color, was saddeningly bland. The “veggie lasagna” — sautéed veggies + cheese sandwiched between layers of tortilla, the whole mess of which was baked — was likewise bland. Why did I order that damnable lasagna? I didn’t feel like fish, I think. Despite these misfires, El Tabano! has my vote for best non-taqueria restaurant of the trip. (Note: I didn’t take any photos at either of our El Tabano! dinners — it was dark out, and had I used flash, every photo would have been all shitty and overexposed.)Next up: my review of the puketastic food at our all-inclusive resort.