Chef Dakota Coburn and his brother are on a culinary pilgrimage across Mexico, seeking out original and authentic flavors. Upon his return, he will showcase his discoveries at Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, giving diners a chance to experience the depth of flavor of these inspiring Mexican specialties. This blog series, written by Coburn, serves as a travelogue of the trip. For more of his adventures, check out his personal blog here.
April 20, 2016: Mexico City
Arriving back to Mexico City from Puebla we were greeted with a hailstorm unlike any I had ever seen. This made the taxi ride a rather epic adventure in itself, as well as keeping us indoors for the day. That evening, however, my brother and I had seats at Pujol, the celebrated restaurant led by chef Enrique Olvera and his team. Pujol is among the world’s 50 best restaurants. We had been anticipating this meal for weeks…and the time had finally come.
Chef Olvera is pushing the boundaries of tradition with his ability to give Mexican cuisine an elegance that most people would never expect: baby street corn in coffee, powdered ant, and chile mayo; jerky tartare with preserved lemon, radish, and watercress; and of course the Mole Madre, a sauce that has been cooking and aging since the day the restaurant opened (it’s more than 600 days old at this point). Every moment of the meal led perfectly into the next and the flavors continued to build, like listening to a sublime symphony going from one movement to the next. The meal told a story, and I was captivated until my last bite.
April 21-23, 2016: Mérida, Yucatán
Next, our adventures took us to the capital of the Yucatán: Mérida. Mérida is a beautiful city that is known as the snack capital of Mexico. Thanks to the food culture and the area’s colorful history, it’s a vibrant place. The Yucatán has a variety of regional classics when it comes to street snacks, and in the three days we were there we must have sampled at least 10 different ones each day. Some, like the panuchos, stood out. Although they sound similar to tacos, they are anything but. The simple snack consists of a sweet corn tortilla stuffed with perfect slow-cooked black beans, shredded chicken, and pickled onions.
I had heard of panuchos before our trip, but what I really enjoyed was sampling new dishes I had never heard of, like poc chuc and relleno negro. Poc chuc is an ancient Mayan dish, very simple in its preparation with thinly sliced, citrus-marinated pork cooked over a charcoal fire. Relleno negro is a fascinating dish made of burnt chiles that are blended and poured over a hard-boiled egg. The egg is then wrapped in ground meat and huge chunks of roasted turkey. It was unlike anything I’ve ever had. The rich black color of the sauce sort of throws you, but the flavors and textures come together for a deep and uniquely Mexican flavor. Eating our way through Mérida’s delicious snacks was the perfect way to end this inspiring journey.