Sunday, 26 July 2015

Restaurant Reviews - Mexico Part 2

Part 2 of my Mexico food diary/ restaurant reviews/ travelogue...
Campeche by night
After leaving Palenque we drove to Campeche and spent the evening in the town, which had a pretty row of buildings with large sculptures in the street, and a smattering of bars and restaurants. We ate in one that was recommended by our tour guide:



 Known for its seafood, we saw a lot of locals there which is always a good sign, and the menu is in both Spanish and English. We were brought a bowl of nachos to start which is common everywhere but this time instead of just salsa, which is usually provided with the nachos, we had a plate of spicy crab meat (for free) which was delicious.


 For my main course I had prawns in coconut breadcrumbs which came with what tasted like apple chutney - and no sides which I hadn’t realised, it was literally just a plate of breaded prawns -  but it was still quite filling and was very good.

 
 

My boyfriend doesn’t eat seafood so had a more limited choice from the menu (though there are non-fish dishes); he had a chicken breast covered with parmesan cheese in a lemon sauce. He said it was very nicely cooked but the lemon and cheese together was a very strange combination as both flavours were quite strong.


We didn’t order dessert but were brought two free cocktails which were tamarind margaritas and really very nice – the bill only came to 550 pesos (about £22) which was more expensive than some places but still cheap by UK standards and the food was very good .

  
  
We stayed the night here: the room was pretty average and we were on the right side of the hotel to have an ocean view but unfortunately had a ground floor room so the only view we had was of the street. When I opened the curtains in the morning there was a workman leaning against our window having a cigarette, so I had to shut the curtains again! I was very surprised given it was low season and that the hotel wasn’t busy that we didn’t have a better room, particularly as we were on a very expensive Kuoni tour and I would have thought they could have found us a better hotel or at least made sure we got a good room in the hotel.
I also found it impossible to use the shower without flooding half the bathroom.
They have a free shuttle bus into the town centre which we used – you let them know at reception what time you want to go, assuming someone hasn’t already booked it. It’s only a 15 minute walk so we walked back after dinner; it was nice not having to walk into town in the heat but the only way of getting the shuttle to come and pick us up afterwards, as we didn’t know in advance what time we would want it, was to call – and we didn’t want to make an expensive international phone call.

 
The breakfast selection was fairly poor, the only cooked option was egg and refried beans along with a selection of fruit, some sliced bread and a selection of small pastries and muffins but what I thought looked like a sweet pastry was actually savoury (and plain) and what I thought was an English scone was also plain savoury pastry.
 
Uxmal
An ancient Mayan city with a great deal of significance- the buildings are apparently known for their size and decoration.


The site is very large and the first temple we came to had smooth walls and a flight of steps up the front, in contrast to others we have seen where the whole front consists of steps. Snakes are an important icon in Mayan culture and there were many carvings with snake heads and also jaguars. I was glad we had a guide to follow around the site, as we walked around –he told us which ones we could climb up and explained how games were played in the ball court. He also opened one of the drainage ducts saying there were usually snakes living in it but (un)fortunately there weren’t any at the time! We saw plenty of iguanas sunning themselves though including this photogenic little chap.
  

Mexican iguana
Mexican iguana

Restaurant Halach-Huinic, near Uxmal
We visited here as part of our group tour with Kuoni and had a great meal, though it’s something that I assume has to be pre-ordered. We were shown to an area at the back of the restaurant where there was a hole in the ground with a cover over it. The staff removed the cover, lifted out a box and opened it; took out the leaves covering it and then took out some baked potatoes, then showed us the marinaded chicken and pork that had been cooked in the ground.

video
 
It was very interesting to see and tasted delicious. It was served with tortillas and rice, with a  chicken and lime soup to start that was very good as well.

 
 

At the end, we were each given a shot of tequila and Kahlua, and the bartender went to each person in turn, put a sombrero on their head, put his hand over the top of the shot glass and slammed it on the table three times, mixing the two liquids together. We each downed it and then he grabbed our heads and shook them around, some sort of weird drinking tradition to make you feel more dizzy I think!

 

In a 1950s style with lots of original features, this was a nice hotel – not what you’d call upmarket but fairly pleasant with a nice lobby area, where I spent a lot of time sitting as the wifi signal wouldn’t work for me at all in our room, though my boyfriend could get onto it there for some reason. I had been dying to have a swim as we’d been on a busy sightseeing tour, but when I looked at the pool it was full of leaves. It was the beginning of low season (early May) so I guess if the hotel wasn’t busy they didn’t bother keeping the pool clean but that was a shame. We were only here one night anyway so it didn’t really matter.
As we were with a group, we weren’t given the breakfast menu that I saw other people with and instead had a set meal. We were given a fruit plate and a basket of mini croissants, and were offered scrambled eggs, which I declined as I don’t like them, expecting to be given another choice but got nothing, which was a bit disappointing since they were clearly able to prepare other dishes (and though we were a group we didn’t actually all come down to breakfast at the same time so when we were there, we were the only ones at our table and they weren’t exactly busy).

 
There are some good little souvenir shops in the town and also a proper artisan craft market- I can’t remember the name but ask any local. The people were really friendly and two of them separately stopped us to offer some shopping and sightseeing advice! If you want tequila or mezcal to take home there is an off-licence (alcohol shop) just off the main square, where I bought a bottle of mezcal for 49 pesos (£2) then saw the exact same bottle in a souvenir shop around the corner for 120 pesos (nearly £5)!
 
Main St Restaurant and Bar, Merida
We’d been touring around Mexico, Guatamala and Belize for nearly a week now and my boyfriend had a real hankering after a pizza, so when we saw this bar/restaurant on the main square in Merida we decided to eat there.


We sat outside to watch the world go by; he had a pizza though said the base wasn’t great, it had been fried in oil on the bottom by the look and taste of it. I had spaghetti in a tomato sauce with prawns which was quite simple but with loads of prawns and was quite nice. There was live music outside and a lively atmosphere inside the bar but we were still able to have a nice quiet meal.
 
Chichen Itza
I’m sure all of you will have heard of Chichen Itza or seen photographs – it has around 1.2 million visitors a year and was recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. That may be, as my guide cynically put it, because it’s nearer to Cancun than any other Mayan sites – but that can’t be the only reason. Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan cities with the largest ball court of its kind, a main pyramid – El Castillo – at 98 feet high; a Temple of the Warriors with carved columns and more – there is a wide range of architectural styles to be seen.
 
 
 

The main pyramid is an impressive site, though it’s pretty hard to get a photo without other tourists in it. You can’t climb it unfortunately – the authorities put a stop to that about ten years ago after two accidents, one of which saw a woman fall off and be killed. According to our guide the other accident happened because a local woman was climbing the temple in high heels but miraculously she survived. We climbed a temple more than twice as high as this one in Guatemala so in a way I was a bit bemused at quite why Chichen Itza is feted in the way it is- but the overall site is very impressive with so many different things to see, including some detailed serpent carvings.

Unlike the other temples we visited, this one has a whole market of souvenir stalls; I’m glad we didn’t come across these at the other places as it’s very touristy and you get hassled a bit by stallholders offering prices, but at the same time I was glad they were here as I did some shopping and bought some lovely ceramic bowls at much lower prices than we later saw in the shops!
 
We had lunch here as part of our group tour of Chichen Itza. They do a buffet lunch with loads of different dishes from burgers and hot dogs to local specialities. There are a few cooking stations where the food is cooked fresh and in my opinion these were much better than what was laid out on the buffet. The waitresses perform for tips balancing trays of drinks on their heads and spinning around to music! There’s a gift shop in the hotel but you will get much better prices at the market stalls around Chichen Itza itself.




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