Tag Archives: Yucatecan

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Crabster in Progreso

Crabster is the newest addition to the food scene in Progreso, which until now, has been made up entirely of plastic Coca Cola chairs, familial service (cousins and siblings doing the serving with no training whatsoever) and the same tired menus at each and every restaurant. Thankfully, they have taken the bar and raised it substantially, which means you can now have a great meal right on the malecon in Progreso!

A recent visit impressed the Critic – the menu is vast, the actual restaurant is beautiful and the service is professional. The food? Fantastic. Highly recommended when you want to take someone to a civilized lunch or dinner overlooking the waterfront and not be kicking dogs or cats under your table or getting your food as it comes out of the kitchen meaning everyone in your party eats at a different time.

Enjoy the photos and plan a trip to Progreso’s Crabster soon!

 

The End of the ‘Temporada’ in Yucatan

If you have lived in the Yucatan for any length of time, you know that every good Yucatecan looks forward to the summer vacations at the beach, known simply as “la temporada”. While the term “temporada” literally means ‘season’ a word that is of special significance to hunters when combined with the word rabbit, duck, deer or moose; or that special time of the year when those of us past a certain age used to play marbles. In the Yucatan, the word has a special meaning and that is: summer vacations. Plans for what one is going to do during the upcoming ‘temporada’ can be started as early as January, when looking at the upcoming year on the calendar; it is a big deal here.

And, at the end of August, when Sams Club and Costco in Merida have already set up displays with plastic made-in-China Santa Clauses and inflatable snowmen, the temporada comes to an end and the locals pack everything up and head back to the city.

No more afternoon sunset-watching, cool drink in hand, while the kids walk the beach for kilometers on end. No more afternoons of entertaining visitors from Merida or beyond with fresh fried fish from the local fishermen and junk food galore to snack on. No more morning jogs on the beach, lazy afternoons with the kids on a boat or pre-dawn wake up calls to go fishing. The beginning of another school year means that Moms – and the occasional enlightened Dad – will be lining up at Merida papelerias like Burrel to buy their school supplies and books if they haven’t already done so for their children and you can’t do those things if you are still at the beach.

For the well-off, who have vacationed in Chicxulub, Uaymitun, Telchac and points further out, jet-skis and motorized beach vehicles are hosed off (by the help of course) and stowed on trailers, to be towed back to Merida behind luxury pickup trucks and minivans where they will be stored in the garage until the next beach break, usually Easter in April the following year. Boats of all sizes are taken to marinas to be taken care of by someone else. Leftover food, alcohol, hammocks and clothing will be loaded into the aforementioned minivans by sullen muchachas to be unloaded by same once they arrive back in the city.

Here’s a socio-cultural aside: most muchachas hate the temporada as it means much more work than usual what with all the sand being tracked in on an hourly basis and the constant arrival and departure of relatives and friends. Plus they can’t get back to their pueblos as easily from the beach on their (few) days off and don’t enjoy any of the beach activities as these are completely foreign to them, never having learned to swim or to appreciate a good ceviche or pescado frito.

For the less economically blessed, plastic chairs, remaining food items and TV’s will be crammed into and onto smaller, less-luxurious vehicles and will, with their owners holding onto rooftop items with their fingertips, also be transported back to Merida.

Both socio-economic groups use the same garbage disposal system, which involves throwing supermarket bags of accumulated trash on to roadside temporary “dumps” which make for a delightful visual treat for many weeks to come.

At the beach, restaurants and businesses that had moved their operations to the coast for the duration will shutter doors, unplug refrigerators and return everything movable back to Merida. The futbolitos, those popular tables with little plastic soccer players that every Yucatecan teen and pre-teen spends an inordinate amount of time at during the evenings to flirt with the opposite sex will be packed up and moved to an upcoming fair or put in storage. Local businesses, the ones that are on the beach year-round, will reduce their staff and count the pesos they made during the temporada, which will probably be just enough (but not quite, they will assure you) to tide them over until the next group of vacationers – the notoriously frugal snowbirds from Canada and the northeastern states – arrive in the fall to spend their winters in warmer climes and spread around what little money they bring with them. Beach houses themselves are closed up in preparation for long term emptiness, unless they are on the rental market for the afore-mentioned snowbirds, in which case they are only partially stripped as a caretaker will probably remain on site to keep things up and running.

All that packing, storing, towing and hauling activity comes democratically together in a sea of vehicles on the Progreso-Merida highway, thankfully now 4 lanes wide most of the way.  Traffic to Merida, in the last daylight hours of the last Sunday of the last weekend of the temporada, is usually a nightmare, especially on the stretches from Uaymitun to Progreso and Chelem to the Progreso-Merida highway as there are only two lanes and one lane, respectively, as the upper class and the middle and lower classes converge. 23 years ago, when there was one lane out to Progreso and one lane back to Merida, this last day’s traffic was literally bumper to bumper for the entire 20 kilometer drive with exasperated drivers looking for free asphalt on shoulders and passing dangerously at every opportunity.

Upon arriving in Merida, temporadistas are welcomed by the flashing blue and red lights of many police patrol vehicles and face the final hurdle of getting into the city and home, where washing machines and empty refrigerators stand ready to process sand-encrusted towels and receive plastic containers of leftovers.

A sense of relief mixed with nostalgia washes over many. But, the temporada has officially ended and it’s time to get back to the regular routine of life in Merida.

New Restaurant Ku’uk Muscles in on the High End of Merida’s Restaurant Scene

Picture this: A cool, subdued and yet warmly lit environment, sparsely furnished and discretely lit. Innovative, creative, strikingly beautiful dishes presented before you in a dazzling succession of colors and flavors (and sensory experiences) that amaze, tantalize and delight your senses. Three and a half hours of celebrating food, glorious food, in ways you could not have imagined, enjoying a chef’s menu where each magical creation leaves you gasping and wondering “what can possibly be next?” or “how did they do that!”

A newcomer to the Merida restaurant scene, definitely at the higher end of the spectrum and not for the quantity-conscious (the “es mucho, so it must be good” crowd) has arrived in the form of Ku’uk and this may just be a valid a reason to come to Merida as the city’s colonial mansions and Mayan relics.

Ku’uk is not an abomination of the English ‘cook’ but rather the Mayan term for sprouts or shoots, as in all things organic that start with a sprout from a seed, and the concept is all molecular gastronomy featuring local ingredients presented to you in ways your abuela never dreamed of (more on molecular gastronomy here). In addition to the restaurant itself, Ku’uk will feature a market where one can purchase delicacies and also a culinary workshop featuring classes for food aficionados. There is an herb garden out back and the entire place is visitable, so do make sure you get the full tour. The kitchen is equipped with the usual grills, ovens and mixers, but also with equipment straight out of a mad scientists laboratory, from nitrogen-based fast-freezing to humidity extractors that remove all water from foods leaving only intensely flavored concentrated flakes to other strange (and most definitely expensive) pieces of equipment that help chef Mario Espinosa and his team perform their magic. The wine “cellar” is a spectacular room that can be reserved for a special dinner and must be seen to be appreciated.

The Critic won’t go into the hows, whys, or pros and cons of molecular cooking and will instead stick to a short review of the experience:

Breathtakingly sublime.

There, that was it.

Better Half and the Critic enjoyed 3 and a half hours of culinary bliss, enjoying the chef’s menu which featured a total of 14 dishes, each more spectacular than its predecessor. The idea was to go through the different dishes but the Critic thinks you will be better served trying them yourself and coming to your own conclusions. Besides the full tasting menu, there is a shorter menu of about 7-8 dishes and there are also some items available a la carte. The photos (below) will speak for themselves.

Service is formal, a little stiff and there is some confidence lacking when presenting dishes but if you are as enthusiastic about the food as Better Half and the Critic were, they warm right up and the experience from the service perspective becomes more fluid and relaxed and one can even elicit a smile from some of the servers, who are mostly young foodie students.

The restaurant is currently in “soft opening” mode, so you can go, and avoid any semblance of a crowd and help them get on their feet before the official presentation to society at the end of the month.

Definitely put Ku’uk on your restaurant “to-die-and-go-to-foodie-heaven-at” list!

The Ku’uk website is here for more info on reservations and location. Or call  999-315-5825

Enjoy the photos!

A Casual Critic Revisits Elio al Mare (for lunch)

All the Critic can say to begin this review is what the hell happened?

That would be a great way to describe what was going through the Critics mind the other day when he visited the famous Italian seaside eatery outside Progreso in the company of distant relatives from the Sofia Vergara family. Are you now thoroughly distracted, dear reader? Well, don’t be, because what the Critic is about to write is important and will save you gas money if you are coming from Merida with the intention of enjoying a good Italian meal.

Let the Critic preface (some more) by saying that this is what most people would call an ‘expensive’ restaurant for Merida; pasta dishes are in the $150 to $200 peso a plate range and there are Italian wines that are truly Italian – not from Costco – and priced accordingly. That, and the rave reviews previously expressed not only by the Critic but also others who have loved this place in the past, was one of the reasons the Critic wanted his guests to try this restaurant.

While they loved it, the Critic was appalled.

It was just after 1 PM, and the sign said they were open. However, no tables were set up and the little trio (Critic plus two) was greeted in a casually uninterested way by two individuals of the male kind, while two more of the female variety sat in the kitchen eating a meal of pasta and bread. Two schoolchildren were sitting at a small table in the restaurant, presumably somehow related to the women in the kitchen, also eating their lunch. They later provided sound effects and background noise in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Gone are the days of the charming Italian host, the sangria, the restaurant set with white tablecloths. Gone is background music, any ambience whatsoever or any feeling of being welcome. A meek, unsmiling individual with the personality of a sea urchin – a traumatized sea urchin that has suffered parental abuse as a baby urchin and moves like it expects a whipping any minute – set the one table and proceeded to take the order. Two of the dishes ordered were not available due to the absence of gorgonzola in one case and basil in another. This is an “upscale” Italian restaurant, you will recall. Orders were modified and eventually arrived at the table. The food was fine, in fact it was pretty darn good, especially the fish, a robalo in a tomato and black olive sauce that was succulently flavorful, albeit raw on the inside. The Critics pasta was tasty but non-descript and the other pasta dish, fetuccine carbonara, apparently was decent enough also.

Did the Critic already mention the noisy children who were now playing hide and seek and shrieking in delight as they skidded through the restaurant from one end to the other. The waiter, if one could call him that, would hide near the kitchen and when forced to come out to set another table for yet another couple (also foreigners who spoke no Spanish) would pass the Critics table and make a determined effort to not establish any eye contact or look at the table, choosing instead to look nervously the other way lest the Critics table asked for something he might have to respond to.

The Critic can not in any good conscience recommend this place any longer, at least not for lunch. What a disappointment.

La Europea – Nada Que Ver

Today I was shopping in Walmart City Center (because there’s nothing like doing some grocery shopping on December 23rd, right?) and decided to walk over to the newly opened La Europea store.

La Europea is the well-known wine and liquor shop in Cancun that also has gourmet food items and a sandwich bar featuring fine hams and other cold cuts. They just opened their Merida location in the City Center mall, where a food court was destined to be but never materialized.

Walking in, you are looked at, walked by and generally ignored by each and every employee you come across. There are boxes all over the place and plenty of paper strewn on the floor. An employee in “Ignore Client” mode, pushes a broom lackadaisically ignoring you as she meanders past. The shelves are somewhat sparsely populated; in particular the chips were one bag to a shelf, indicating a last minute attempt to fill retail space with something – anything. I was pleased however, to find some jars of white asparagus that was NOT from China (see earlier post on Superama) but rather imported from Peru.

The whisky selection seems a little more extensive than that found at COVI, with a greater selection of Kentucky and Tennessee whiskies on display. All the other brands of Scotch, vodkas and rums are ones you will find elsewhere in Merida, from Costco to Walmart to Sams to the aforementioned COVI.

Like Superama, this is a store that is marketed to appeal to a clientele that is interested in quality. However their service, just like Superama and from what I witnessed today, is nowhere near anything resembling good or even mediocre. It sucks.

With employees completely indifferent to your presence you will be much better served and enjoy a much more pleasant shopping experience at the store whose name begins with a C and ends with an I which I am hesitant to name again so as not to be accused of owning stock in the company, which I don’t.

Doña Juany gets a Headache

Stepping out, broom in hand, into the relatively cool morning air in front of her colonial home that had once belonged to her parents and who had gone off and died, leaving her in charge of taking care of the old, crumbling family home, Doña Juany paused for a moment to take a breath.

Fate. Yes, as fate would have it and thanks to her ungrateful and unhelpful brothers deciding to marry and move to el norte because God forbid that her sisters in law should have to live in Merida’s congested downtown – las wachas – she had been the only one left to live in what used to be a grand colonial home but which was now reduced to a dusty relic, complete with cracks in the walls and ceilings, vines creeping into the kitchen and rotting wooden door frames. She glanced – half angry, half sad – back at the sagging front door and grunted sharply, beginning to sweep the sidewalk with quick, violent movements.

Of course she had not gotten married; the love of her life had been Carlos Irigoyen but what had been a promising love affair was fatally interrupted by the constant neediness of her mother who was on her deathbed and had no one else to care for her. Juany’s father had died a few months prior and that prolonged illness and the news that Mama was also now sick, was the motivation her brothers needed and they had fled the family home to take refuge with aunts and uncles and in universities in Mexico City and Monterrey.

“Anywhere but here” she muttered to herself, sweeping a little more vigorously.

Of course while they were off enjoying life and improving themselves under the guise of ‘studying a career’, she was left behind with Mama Rita, as the servants – long since gone after her fathers illness dried up what was left of the family fortune – used to call her; bathing, feeding, changing her now baby-like mother and arranging for a priest to come visit once a week to keep up her spiritual health. Not that she minded of course – she had to remind herself sternly – but wouldn’t it have been nice if her brothers had shown at least some interest in helping out, in some small way. But no, not even a hint of interest let alone outright help. And then they started in with their girlfriends, some of whom eventually became their wives – las wachas – and they all moved back to Merida, but as far away from el centro as possible, to fashionable neighborhoods with pretentious names, like Monte Alban and Monte Cristo and Monte Fulano and Monte Mengano.

Her sweeping picked up speed to the point where she was now slashing the broom back and forth, not even seeing what it was she was sweeping.

And so here she was, unmarried, overweight and bitter, saddled with a responsibility in the form of a house that she couldn’t get rid of even if she wanted to, given the condition of the building and the drooping real estate market in Merida.

She stopped sweeping and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and muttered something about el polvo just loud enough to be heard, in case anyone was looking out a nearby window or door.

She could feel a headache coming on.

It was at this moment that Frijol, the neighbors dog, sauntered into her line of sight and stood before her, looking up with those big dark malix eyes and wagging his tail expectantly. He was a healthy, well fed, all-black former street dog who had had the fortune to be adopted by Doña Juany’s neighbor, a gringa who had moved in a few years back and with whom Doña Juany had come to be on speaking terms when they occasionally crossed paths on their street.

With a jerk of his head, Frijol turned to bark happily at his owner, who now also appeared in front of Doña Juany.

Buenos dias, Juanita!” said Betty cheerfully.

Buenos dias, Doña Beti” answered Doña Juany, forcing a smile and hoping her eyes were not too red. “Mucho polvo” she added with a quick rub of her left eye.

Si” replied Betty “es muy seco todo” and with that she turned, waving, and sang out “adios Juanita!” while opening her front door and with the malix Frijol bounding happily ahead of her, disappeared inside.

Doña Juany looked after them for a moment, then took her broom and slowly stepped through the sagging wooden front doors back inside, closing them carefully behind her, making her way past the scratched petatillo rocker next to a small metal end table that featured a scene from a Disney cartoon, through the off-white, almost green square-tiled kitchen, making a beeline for the baño with the one naked overhead light bulb and finally reaching the stained wooden wall cabinet with the broken mirror, where she kept her headache medicine.

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Will Doña Juany find comfort in Aspirin? Will Frijol the Malix live happily ever after? Will Betty remember to call Pat?

Stay tuned for another installment of TihoTales, when inspiration strikes!

The Problem with the Muchacha

“I mean it’s not like she’s actually stealing anything” said Pat, holding the cup of decidedly watery coffee with both hands, feeling the cups smoothness and marveling at the fact that you could even hold a fresh cup of coffee in a porcelain – albeit chipped – cup with both hands. Shouldn’t this be hotter?

Betty nodded, completely in tune with the frustrated sentiments of her recently arrived friend from Baltimore, for whom Betty had procured a maid in response to Pats request because, as she had put it, “I need more time for my art.”

Blonde, blue-eyed and originally from Guelph, Ontario, Betty had had similar concerns when she first arrived in the formerly-white city of Merida some years ago but now had become accustomed to the locals way of doing things. She recalled the shock of finding her mozo, a young lad of about 22 with a limited command of English and decidedly Mayan features whom she had hired off the street, poking around in her kitchen when he was supposed to be watering her garden. “Que haces, Juanito?” she had asked and the mozo had simply shrugged and left her there, wondering if she should make it more clear what his job description was and seriously debating whether or not she should count the spoons.

Pat interjected with a sigh. “I know she is a sweet girl and would never take something without asking” she said “but I can’t shake the feeling that she has been through my things”

The waiter, a man in his fifties with a large belly completely inconsistent with his income, approached the outdoor table. “Mas cafe?” he asked, all the while checking out Betty’s legs, which were bare, muscular and tanned, thanks to her plaid shorts and a strict regimen of daily swimming and walking her dogs. “No, gracias” said Betty, while Pat just shook her head. The waiter retreated into the dark confines of the cafe.

Pat continued. “I mean there I was, in my studio doing some work with forks. You know I am working on a piece that involves forks, right?” Betty nodded. “And I look over at the kitchen and there is Seidy talking on her cell phone and putting something in her purse. So I put two and two together…” Her voice trailed off.

“Look,” said Betty soothingly, “you really don’t know what she was up to and I’m sure you’re just jumping to conclusions. Remember that I talked to Seidy’s mother before we had her come to work for you and she assured us that Seidy was very responsible and completely dependable.” Pat nodded. “Why don’t you ask her what she was doing?” continued Betty.

Pat shook her head, setting down the chipped cup. “I couldn’t do that” she said, “I would be accusing her of something and what if it is all a misunderstanding?”

Betty smiled gently. Pat had been through a lot in the last few years and her self-esteem was still somewhat fragile. After her husband had left her in yet another classic middle age crisis love story, Pat had spent much of her time depressed and only when she discovered her passion for art – and anti-depressant drugs – did she climb out of her funk and rejoin the living. Now she had managed to purchase a small home in Merida and was getting by on her savings and the occasional sale of her rather controversial art. There was not a huge market in Merida, it seemed, for abstract sculptures made of kitchen utensils.

Betty signaled for the bill to a passing busboy using that ‘writing-in-the-air’ motion she had picked up as part of her cultural conversion, who nodded and continued on to the cafe’s interior. A moment later the waiter emerged from within and asked Betty if she wanted the bill. “Si, por favor” she said and a few minutes later was fishing through her fanny pack for some pesos. Placing the money on the bill and mentally calculating the 10 percent she was leaving as a tip, she looked at Pat. “If you like, next week when I have a moment, we can sit down – together if you like – and talk to Seidy and find out what she’s up to these days. You know, sometimes when you talk to them, you get to know a little about what it is that’s going on in their lives and everything is really OK.”

Pat’s slightly worried expression seemed to brighten a few shades. “That would be great Betty” she said, “can I call you?”

“Of course” Betty replied with a smile. They got up and made their way down calle 62 until they came to the corner of 61, where they parted, with a peck on the cheek just like the local ladies of a certain economic and social background do it, and continued on to their respective homes in Centro.

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Will Pat resolve her doubts? Will Seidy cough up her secret? Will Betty adopt another street dog?

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’ho Tales, coming soon, should the inspiration strike!

Bank Credit Card Interest Rates

For those of you not familiar with the exorbitant rates charged by Mexican banks for use of their credit card, and think you have it bad there in the US or Canada, here’s an interesting tidbit of information, sent to me recently in my HSBC credit card statement by the Banco de Mexico and the Condusef. The former is the central bank in Mexico and the latter is the place to go when you have a complaint or grievance against a bank or credit institution.

The rates, comparatively, for “Gold” credit cards, by bank:

Bank / Product / Annual % Rate

  • Banco Inbursa – Oro Inbursa – 25.5%
  • BBVA Bancomer – Oro Bancomer – 32.9%
  • Santander – UNISantander-K – 33.2%
  • Ixe Tarjetas – Ixe Oro – 35.3%
  • Banamex – Oro – 41.7%
  • HSBC – Oro HSBC – 42.3%
  • Banorte – Oro – 43.8%
  • Scotiabank – Scotia Travel Oro – 53.4%
  • American Express – The Gold Credit Card – 54%

Pretty shocking huh?

Merida Doors and Facades (Photos)

This afternoon I found myself in Meridas centro, known in expat circles as “Centro” ie “I live in Centro, where do you live?” about which I could go on in a humorous fashion for quite some time, as no local ever calls it just ‘centro’ but anyway, once again I digress and of course I might alienate some of my readers, whom I dearly love to death.

Gosh it’s hard to type this when the cursor disappears!

In any case, there I was, the light was perfect and I have always wanted to take photos of those colorful facades and doorways so typical of the centro scene and lo and behold: I had my camera, the afternoon sun cast a warm glow all around and I had time to spare.

Here are some of those shots.