Thursday, February 24, 2005

Where I Went On Holiday - Playa Del Carmen, Part 4

[Originally posted on]

Days 2-3

That night, we had a proper dinner where I was fully aware of my surroundings. It's not my intention here to criticize, so I won't name names, but in general I have to say that the fancier the restaurant, the worse the food. We spent a lot of money at some well-recommended joints, only to receive very bland chicken cutlets or fish or whatever, floating in dull cream sauces with the same boring tongues of carrot and zucchini everywhere. I know everything doesn't have to be aflame with chilis, but really, we ate some incredibly boring meals in Playa.

On the other hand, every time we ventured into a taqueria, even the grimiest beat-down plastic chair place, we had absolutely wonderful food. The best thing I ate in Mexico might have been the pok chuc in the tourist-trap joint (the one with the red chairs) at Coba. In Playa, Los Almendros on 10th at Calle 6 had some terrific tacos -- I had one that was pork fat, which sounds gross but was awesome, and the chorizo is with mashed potato, and if you haven't had a mashed-potato & chorizo taco yet you're missing out.

The other best thing I ate was the famous shrimp taco at El Oasis. The rest of my meal was good, but that shrimp taco was like a trumpet blast and a ten-minute fiesta in my mouth. And that was only the second or third best thing at El Oasis; you've read about the tamarindo sauce, but for me the green sauce is the one I wanted to take home. I had heard stories of even Mexicans laying on some of this devil's milk and being shocked, but it was still a surprise. One drop -- POW. Two drops -- WOW. OK, we'll go to five drops on a chip -- oh lordie, the tears were running down my face. There is NOTHING on this earth as wonderful as the smoky sweet taste of habanero pepper, and when you taste it coming on you know that the blowtorch is about to touch the flame. WHOOSH. I sorta regretted it the next day, but I scarfed up a whole thing of chips with this magic sauce, never getting further than six drops at a time. When the guy who looked like the boss walked by, I flagged him down and raved incoherently for a few minutes, and when he told me I could drop by with an empty water bottle and cart some of the stuff away for 50 pesos, I cried some more. It's in my fridge right now.

If you're wondering, I discovered a few temporary cures for head colds here: one is a big snortful of salt water (decongests for a half hour), and the other is a repeated mild overdose of El Oasis's green sauce.

Thank you, habanero peppers.

Day 3

Repeat day 2, with a little more shopping.

A few fun experiences: I tried to buy a bottle of water in a drugstore on 10th with a 50 peso bill (getting small notes and coins was a constant problem). The girls there couldn't make change; I looked, and they had fewer than 10 pesos in the till. No English, no Spanish. For fifteen minutes I tried different combinations of more water, sunscreen, gum, toothpaste, different notes, taking things in and putting them back in, until I finally hit a combo that worked, which included some gum I didn't want. I think that unless you at some point acquire some gum you don't really want you haven't been to Mexico. While this was going in, another fancily-dressed American lady stopped in and had the same luck, only she swore and stomped out in a huff.

I have to say that in my whole two weeks in Mexico my desire to get into a huff over ANYTHING was at a historical low. By the end of the trip, you could have run over my foot in a car and I would have waved and smiled a little "te nada".

At some point I found myself trying to explain to Nancy where all these cigars came from. I have no idea, look, there's not that many, well, OK, I guess that's kind of a lot, but I'm on vacation, honey? The woman is capable by now of rolling her eyes without even moving a muscle. I endured a little scorn, possibly edged with a bit of contempt, but, well, I got to enjoy my cigars. I am very grateful to the person on this forum who recommended the Santa Claras, hecho en Mexico, as they were fresh and excellent, mild but a terrific head-filling smoke. Mmm. The Te Amos were also good, though not as good for me, the Torrents a bit less so, and I managed to save my money and not buy any Habanas -- though I did several times see the kid selling the glass-lid fakes I'd been warned about. Peso for value, I think the Santa Clara was about as good as I'm capable of appreciating. The cheap rolled-on-the-spot ones were also fun -- super moist and fresh, obviously not as prime a tobacco but pretty damn good for half the money, at least for the first few inches.

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