Mayan Tikin Xic a la pescadera

By nature of having been raised in the diverse mecca that is Vancouver, I was exposed to every type of immigrant community from around the city. Growing up I had a large Mexican contingent, and as such I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of my friends across a polarizing variety of states in their natal and proud Mexico. During one of my visits down South, I was completely taken aback by the simplicity of life, profounding depth of the Mayan culture, and surrounding natural beauty of the Yucatán Peninsula, also known as the Mayan Riviera.

We all have that special travel destination that keeps luring us back year after year. It is familiar and we can navigate it with ease, we make an extra effort to communicate with the locals and in turn they start to recognize us on the street. Having recently visited the peninsula, Zara and I decided to split our three weeks between two base anchors, the first in Puerto Morelos and the second leg in Tulum. 

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Churches in Puerto Morelos and Tulum.

Puerto Morelos

The town of Puerto Morelos, located halfway between the hectic and overpopulated cities of Cancún and Playa del Carmen, has never quite taken off in terms of development and tourism. Sure, there are plenty of opulent beach resorts interpolating the majority of the coast, but thank the heavens they are far enough away from this sleepy little town. We prefer not to travel anywhere during high tourist seasons, yet in this case we broke the cardinal rule as it is a great time to visit Puerto Morelos from around December through April as the weather is agreeable and local businesses are fully functioning; and by weather I mean it’s not during tornado season nor is it 95% humidity.

sea

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Hurricane Wilma almost toppled over the landmark lighthouse. It has remained the same way ever since.

While in Puerto we rented a room from a laid back and friendly Canadian couple that offered the perfect beach front lodging. The town has a growing number of established ex-pats hailing from Eastern Canada, U.S., Argentina and other countries, which balances out nicely with the local community. 

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Our hosts, Ken and Kathy.

No trip to this lush and remote location is complete without visiting any of the most popular or lesser known Mayan pyramids.

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Mayan ruined city of Coba. The Ixmoja pyramid (right) is the tallest in the peninsula.
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Panoramic view from the top of the Ixmoja pyramid.

Los Cenotes

The entrance into Puerto Morelos is dissected by the main road linking El Zocalo (town square) with the village of La Colonia, and eventually the highway. On either side of the road are the mangroves, which connect to both underground fresh water ways and the Caribbean sea. Sometimes you’ll be able to spot alligators basking by the banks, which joggers and day dreamers should be mindful of. 

mangrove

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Another local specie, el tejón. It may look cute, but it packs a ferocious punch.

There are thousands of primordial underground water networks, regionally known as cenotes, and many that have yet to be found. According to the locals I’ve spoken to, apparently the best way to find them is by following the Quetzal bird as it eventually finds refuge in these subterranean water deposits. Mayans are also highly superstitious people and can tell a great story, especially when it comes to the fascinating tales of the elusive and mischievous alux.

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On the central road ruta de los cenotes looking for a great cenote to spend an afternoon in.
Eventually we found Cenote La Noria. There wasn’t a single soul there.

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Let’s fish

The Punta Allen village located towards the end of the Boca Paila peninsula and the nearby Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a prime destination for sports fishermen from all around, but as luck would have it this time around it was almost impossible to get there due to poor road conditions. Instead, we opted for going out near our stay by hiring a boat by the historic lighthouse.

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Once we were out at sea we started trolling the water to catch some fish from the surface. The first one we landed was a barracuda, the locals eat it so I was happy to part ways with it by giving it to the skipper. Following our fishing excursion further in the ocean, Zara and I put on our fins as we got closer to shore and dove right into the water to snorkel around the now protected reef.

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Our crew from left to right: Delfino, skipper Francisco “Pollis”, and Christian “Canelo”.
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Pollis and I.
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The mighty barracuda.
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We caught a four pounder red snapper, locally known as pargo.

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Yellow fin snapper, red snapper, grouper, grunt, among others.

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That afternoon we brought in a decent bounty and as with the first time I visited the Mayan Riviera more than twelve years ago, we brought the smaller catch to a local restaurant, El Pesquero, to have the fish prepared for us. 

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Pescado a la Veracruzana. Fish in Veracruz-style red sauce.

The following day, we prepped, grilled the snapper, and imbibed in the company of our wonderful hosts. 

Mayan Tikin Xic a la pescadero
Serves 6
Grilled red snapper in Mayan Tikin Xic achiote sauce.
Print
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 large red onion
  2. Salt and pepper to taste
  3. ½ cup pre-made achiote paste
  4. ½ tsp dried oregano
  5. ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  6. 3 cloves
  7. 5 dried allspice berries
  8. 2 small tomatoes
  9. 4 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste
  10. A fistful of thickly minced cilantro leaves
  11. Banana leaves
  12. ½ cup sweet orange juice
  13. ¼ cup sour orange juice. Alternatively use grapefruit or lime juice.
  14. 2 medium size potatoes, peeled or non-peeled (optional)
  15. 2 tbsp minced fresh epazote or 1 tbsp crushed dry epazote leaves. Dry epazote leaves have a stronger flavor than fresh ones.
  16. 1 cleaned 4 lb. snapper, halibut, sea bass or any fish that can withstand heat from the grill.
Instructions
  1. Slice the large red onion into ⅓ of an inch rings and cut the potatoes into cubes.
  2. The marinade: Place achiote, garlic paste and oregano in a medium sized stainless steel or glass bowl and set aside. In a dry skillet over medium heat, lightly toast cumin, cloves and allspice until their fragrance is released — about a minute or so. Grind the spices to a powder form then add them to the bowl. Add one large pinch salt and sweet and bitter orange juice and form into a paste by breaking down the achiote with the liquids and spices until it becomes a thick sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add more juice. Note: you can substitute bitter orange with grapefruit or lime juice. Also, achiote is rich in color and may stain surfaces and clothing.
  3. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Cover both sides of the fish with the marinade. Chill for 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours) to let the marinade seep through.
  4. Slice banana leaves into large sheets or set aside the aluminum foil (which is what we had that day). Soften the banana leaves by passing them briefly over a stovetop burner or by rinsing them with hot water before patting dry. Layer the leaves twice on the baking sheet and place fish on it with the skin-side down.
  5. Evenly sprinkle the fish with the chopped tomatoes and any remaining juices, cilantro, epazote and potatoes, and finally arrange the onion rings over the entire length of the fish. Sprinkle with a little juice before wrapping it up. Lay down some additional leaves on top, then wrap like a package by tying it with string or thin strips of leaf.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove and let package rest, unopened, for 15 minutes.
Notes
  1. We used potatoes for this dish, but they are entirely optional. I would suggest to boil them in water ahead of time until half cooked before adding them with the rest of the ingredients. The prep time above is for a dish without them, so adjust the time accordingly if including potatoes.
  2. You can also use pico de gallo instead of separately adding tomatoes and cilantro.
  3. If you are like me and love some heat and a spicy bite, feel free to add 1 or 2 chopped jalapeños or chili, cayenne or chipotle powder. Whatever floats your boat.
3000 Acre Kitchen http://3000acrekitchen.com/

Preparing the fish

Dry chiles, naranja dulce (sweet orange), and naranja agria (sour) from the local market.
Dry chiles, naranja dulce (sweet orange), and naranja agria (sour) from the local market.

cooking

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Tulum & Valladolid

The remaining chapter of our trip was spent in Tulum with a quick tour to the colonial Yucateca town of Valladolid. I could go on about both places, but they are fully deserving of their own separate stories. 

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Mayan blue-hued waves breaking by the foot of the cliff. Tulum.

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Valladolid
Valladolid’s Casa de los Venados contemporary Mexican art museum, is quite possibly one of the best museums I’ve ever stepped foot in.

For more on what to do in Puerto Morelos, check out Zara’s post on Eat, Drink, & Be Merry . 

: Jaime  

3 comments

  • Jaime! The mysterious Mr. Vasquez surfaces in Portland of all places – this is the not so mysterious Jeff Merrill, formerly of the Electronic Ink Family. Probably a totally inappropriate place to say howdy but I couldn’t find a contact email – so I apologize for misusing your blog (a most excellent one by the way). I came across your delicious blog and was astounded that 1) it was you and 2) you’re in Portland. I live just outside of Portland in Oregon City. We’re practically neighbors. I’d love to hear about your adventures over the last decade or so, so get in touch if you’re so inclined. Let me leave you with a quote…

    “That was the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen…..but it really made you think.”
    —Jaime (tenence), ca. 2000

    • Jaime

      Jeff!!! If there is anyone I’d love to hang out with from the past, well, except from Ernest Hemingway, would be you!
      How do I get in touch?

  • Hey Jaime, I left my email in the “email” box for your comment section.

    Send me an email and we can make a plan. I will tell you war stories about when I fought the fascists in Spain.

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