26 de mayo del 2012 – Primera Noche and El Chivito”
Oh goodness, where do I start? I feel like I have died and gone to heaven with all of the amazing assortments of international food available in Playa del Carmen. In case you’re going, “Where is Playa del Carmen?” – click on the link. So why did I choose Playa del Carmen? Actually, my friend Laura (from work) mentioned the name once or twice and so I started looking it up. I knew Cancun would be fun, but I wanted to try something different. I created our itinerary based on recommendations online and in person, and a new method: asking locals where to go, what to eat and what there is to do. The locals are awesome, friendly, simple and humble people. You can tell that outside of Playa, there is not a lot of money. We drive by some poor areas on the way in. We realized tourism is the one and only thing that brings money to this area and big agencies usually get the most clients, so my goal was to focus on the small businesses.
Our first meal was sort of a spontaneous “what do you think is still open and serving food at this hour?” kind of moment. We got to our hotel about an hour and half after leaving CUN airport. We took the bus ($20 total) and a taxi ($7 w/ tip). We checked in and then walked around and ended up a place on the corner a block away. We ordered this sandwich called “El Chivito” that had about 12 ingredients. It was Paraguayan food, go figure. Nonetheless, we were impressed. They said it came with Papa Francesas, so we asked “what are Papas Francesas” and the girl says “the little round ones.” Little round ones? Round ones of what? Well, that’s odd, but whatever. It was only $170 MX Pesos* and HUGE. Turns out Papas Francesas literally translates to “FRENCH FRIES.” DUH! Don’t ask WHY I couldn’t figure that out on my own.
Ingredients: baguette, swiss cheese, skirt steak, ham, hard-boiled egg, pimento olives, tomatoes, lettuce and sauce. Pimento olives now rule my sandwich world.
NOTE* At the time, 170 MX Pesos seemed cheap, but looking back now on my 4th day in Mexico, 170 for a sandwich is a lot of money. We have found much better deals.
We ordered it to-go and used our kitchenette to dish ourselves up!
Later, we went to bed and woke up early for two people who got NO sleep the night before. We got up at around 9am and wanted to go explore “El Pueblo.” The night before we stopped at the Farmacia to buy some water, vaseline (both of us had lips that resembled the desert floor), and other miscellaneous things we forgot. I asked the cashier where the real Playa is. He said we need to go to “el Pueblo.” Coincidentally, I thought I knew where that was. I said, “Is that where the ADO bus station is?” He said yes. Why did I know that? Well, when we got to Playa on the ADO, we noticed there were NOOOOO tourists, just Mexican people. I thought, wow, this area doesn’t get a lot of tourism. Well, we were just were the locals live. THAT is where I wanted to eat.
27 de mayo del 2012 – Crushing Almonds, Eating Pollo Asadero and Parrijjjaa Argentina”
On our way to “el Pueblo” there were a lot of tropical trees, including palm trees with coconuts, and almond trees. The great thing about traveling with Rafa to a place like Playa is that he is from a tropical country also, Cuba. We found an almond tree and he was able to crack some almonds for me to eat. They were creamy and soft and had an amazing after-taste. Locals certainly looked at us funny, but then again, they must see tourists do weird stuff all of the time.
Jugo de Guayaba (Guava Juice)
It’s not that I don’t like guava juice, it’s just that I am not used to the taste. Apparently Rafa said this juice was really good, but it was really acidic and not really my thang. That’s the other thing, I’m really picky about juice. I don’t drink bottled juice much anymore. I searched high and low for “aguas frescas” and “jugos naturales” all over Playa today. We went around in so many circles we started recognizing and becoming familiar with the entire town. I finally stopped at FrutiYogurth and got a “Refrescado” which is pineapple juice with melon juice. It was 1/2 liter and I drank it all in about 2.5 seconds flat. SO DELICIOUS it didn’t last long enough to take a picture. It was 35 MX Pesos, or $2.50. Again, at this point that seemed cheap to me, until I later found a real aguas frescas stand in the middle of the “boonies” of Playa. The women served me and Rafa 2 liters (1 liter each), for $1 per liter. She had flavors like sandia, guanabana, pina colada, fresca, naranja y limon.We ordered the pina colada. Amazing! And only $1.
These pictures are of the bottled stuff, which in NO way compared to the fresh aguas.
Asadero de Pollo
Finally, we get to the entire reason we left the house today – breakfast! At this point, we’d gone around town 4-5 hours and still couldn’t find something authentic enough to eat that sounded good. There was a lot of authentic, and lots of good, but we wanted both and most importantly, local/small. Then we hit the jackpot. We turned a corner and smelled this amazing smell of chicken, like bbq chicken. But not American BBQ, more like grilllllllleedd chicken. There was a man with his family working a tiny restaurant with a HUGE charcoal grill outside. There were about 30 WHOLE chickens (chopped down the middle) all roasty, toasty with crispy skin and covered in this incredible red abodo (seasoning). We took the picture below a couple of days later (we came back 3 times for the chicken during our stay in Playa and actually saved a lot of money by eating here.)
It was delicious looking and so we passed on doing a “sit-down” lunch and bought a whole chicken off the guy. It was 75 MX Pesos, or around $6.25. We didn’t think it came with sides, but he went and got a bag from his wife and chopped the chicken up and covered it in foil. He closed the bag and gave it to us. We walked to the beach to eat. We sat about 5 feet from the water and with our fingers dug into this…
If we would have done “sit-down” they would have dished us up like this…(when you take your order to-go, it all comes in baggies).
Ingredients included a whole chicken, black beans, rice, hot sauce, 20 tortillas (or more), cabbage salad, pickled onions. Amazing deal! And it was only a dollar more to have it all dished up for you nicely at the restaurant.
El Diez (el 10) – Parrilla Argentina
What is up with all the Argentinian people in Playa? There are more Argentinians here than there are white people OR Mexican people. The majority of the restaurants are ALSO from Argentina. You know how many Mexican restaurants there are in our hotel’s area? 1! Yes, ONE! ONEEEEE. I can’t believe it.
So, Rafa and I have gone to “el Pueblo” then to the beach to eat, then back to the hotel to rest for about an hour (he slept on the hammock outside after drinking some Flor de Cana rum, and I slept inside). Then we woke up and went to the beach again. The water was warrrmm and the sand is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. At this point it’s around 7pm. We played at the beach and then walked more. Actually, we snuck into a resort and swam in their pool a while. Then we got lost in the resort and security escorted us out. We played dumb and said we were lost. They believed us.
As we walked down “Quinta” or 5th Avenue, we wanted meat. Grilled meat is an overwhelming smell all over Playa. We were craving steak and nothing sounded better than an Argentinian grill with Chimichurri. Yummmm. We ended up at “El 10” or “El Diez” or “The Ten.” I’m sure that has something to do with the food being a 10/10, and it really was.
Dinner included Steak “Arrachera”, tomato/onion/lettuce salad with vinaigrette, garlic & parsley fries with mayonnaise, and for dessert I ordered Dulce de Leche and a cappuccino.
I gave my leftover steak to a stray dog named “Cairo” who is well-known in at this restaurant and eats there every day. He was adorable I took about 10 pictures of him. I thought he looked too healthy to be a stray and that’s because everyone feeds him, he sleeps at the beach and no one owns him.
28 de mayo del 2012 – La Tragata”
Today we woke up at noon and headed straight to the beach. We had not had anything to eat though, and didn’t want to bring food to the beach, so we stopped at a local restaurant called La Tragata.
La Tragata – Seabass al Ajillo and a Proscuitto & Machego Baguette
This place was a cute sit-down restaurant we walked by on our way to the beach. We were hungry and it was late so we wanted to eat something before we went to the beach so we wouldn’t cover our food in sand. I ordered Seabass al Ajillo (Seabass in a garlic sauce and subbed in veggies and rice), and Rafa ordered a Manchego and Prosciutto Baguette with fries. We also split a guacamole to start.
When we look back on it, we should have ordered the “menu del dia.” It was three courses for $80 MX Pesos. That would have been like $6 per person for appetizer, entrée and dessert and instead we paid around $15 per person ordering a la carte…
29 de mayo del 2012 – Hotel-cooked Breakfast, Pan Dulce and Cookies Named After Me”
Hotel Cooking in Playa del Carmen – Breakfast
Rafa was able to use the small kitchenette in our hotel room to whip up an amazing breakfast. We ate leftover chicken, toast, eggs and skillet turkey. We drank pineapple juice and milk. Speaking of milk, most milk in Mexico comes in shelf-stable liter boxes. If you want fresh milk, you have like 2 options and it’s expensive. We opted for fresh milk, but when we tasted it, we realized it had no flavor. It was like water. It wasn’t gross, but it wasn’t good either. The pineapple juice was great. It was a brand called Jumex – Nectar de Pina. Actually they sell it in the US, but I never buy it. Now that I’ve tasted it though, I’m going to stalk up because that stuff is delicious! It was $1 or $12 MX Pesos.
Also, the grocery stores have these incredible displays of pan dulce. You can find pan dulce at any Mexican store in Portland, but lots of people do not venture out in that direction. Here, the pan dulces have their own section of the store (like “dairy,” “meat counter,” “pan dulce.”). There are so many varieties, flavors, colors, fillings, shapes. I was in heaven! Unfortunately, my pallett is bland these days and I like plain old vanilla flavored stuff. I opted for an Elephant Ear, Crossaint and this Bread thing with cream filling and sugar crumble.
Did I mention I also found these? They were pricey, imported cookies from Spain. What else was I supposed to do? I had to buy them!
Well everyone, that’s it for Playa del Carmen. Tomorrow morning we head to Tulum, about one hour south of Playa del Carmen. See you there!