Cancun is made up of two very different parts: the zona hotelera, or hotel area, where all of the tourists and spring breakers hang out, fry in the sun, and get tanked at the clubs, and the centro, or downtown area, where there’s no beach, no big resorts and just a lot of locals.
Though we spent the majority of our time in Mexico exploring places other than Cancun, we did find ourselves looking for a place to eat there one night, and it was then that we hit the jackpot of food: Parque de las Palapas. An open and lively square, the park is named after the umbrella’d tables where people gather to listen to live music and eat the delicious food from the many food stalls and carts selling all sorts of traditional Mexican eats. From tacos and quesadillas to things I had never heard of in my life, everyone was selling something, and for what amounted to no more than a couple of dollars.
Everything was so good, and so mind-bogglingly-cheap that we came back for lunch a different day. Add up everything below and it probably still was barely 20 US dollars. And let me tell you, it made buying lunch in New York upon my return almost that much more of a painful experience.
First, some of the most simple, no-frills tacos I’ve ever had. Nothing but juicy, savory hunks of chicken on warm tortillas, but yet somehow better than a lot of the sloppy, fat, overloaded tacos I’ve had at home.
Next, something so delicious that the moment I bit into it, I could think of nothing aside from how delicious it was, which is why I immediately forgot its name. All I remember was that unlike the tacos, it was loaded with lots of varying textures, flavors and colors: avocado, chorizo, queso oaxaca (a salty white cheese), diced onions and a side of spicy pepper salsa.
Because we had spent about 3 US dollars in the above pictured food (plus a watermelon juice, not pictured) we went back to a different vendor and bought a couple of other things, though I have to warn you, the picture below is probably the worst I have. My normal camera went kaput during this trip and I had to buy a new (and cheap) replacement. But take my word for it, these things were de-friggin-licious. On the left, a fried quesadilla, a crispy, crunchy, deep fried pocket of salty, stretchy white cheese, topped with a tangy white cream and soft crumbled cheese. On the right, a panucho with tinga de res, a crispy fried tortilla topped with a hearty, black bean paste, creamy avocado, and shreeded beef cooked in a rich tomato sauce.
Then another day, we gave a torta a try. What I’ve always known to be a cake in Spanish, in this part of the world meant a sandwich of sorts. Stuffed with carne asada, beans, and a little kick from cilantro and other herbs and spices, this was a sandwich I’d love to see more of during my boring lunch breaks back in New York.
After the delicious chicken tacos, I wanted to try different ones too, so we went for these, made with cochinita pibil, a traditional (for these parts) way of preparing pork that entails slow roasting it in banana leaves or similar wrapped coating. Add just a bit of grilled, sweet red onions, and you have a seriously tasty taco.
It was definitely one of the best finds of our trip, and one of the highlights of the whole week. It’s hard to beat authentic, home cooked, cheap as hell, and delicious as nothing else food. I’d go back to Cancun just to eat here again.