Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun January 31 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | January 31, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Essential Cozumel Eats

    Essential Cozumel Eats

    Photo via Twitter/ParkRoyalHotels

    I love to sample the local cuisine in every country I visit. For me, food plays as much of a part in discovering a place as exploring landmarks and natural settings. Mexican cuisine is rich and varied enough to warrant extensive culinary tours. And I'm not talking about tacos and tequila.

    Each region boasts its own dishes, spices and drinks. Cozumel, an island located off the Yucatan Peninsula, displays a particularly diverse cuisine due to centuries of isolation from the mainland and influences from the Caribbean and Europe.

    I conducted some Cozumel cuisine research on my plane trip down with the help of Alex, my seatmate, who supplied a list of all the essential Cozumel dishes, including salbutes, pescado tikinxic and chilaquiles con pollo.

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    But my first sample of the seafood-focused cuisine was heavenly grilled grouper with coconut and mango sauce accompanied by fried plantains. It was so scrumptious that I received Grand Park Royal Hotel's very first doggie bag so that I enjoyed the rest for breakfast.

    A tempting array of appetizers at Park Royal's El Mexicano restaurant included salbutes, a popular street food of half-fried corn tortillas topped with chicken, cheese and pickled onions and cheese empanadas. I enjoyed how the crisp texture of the tortillas blended with the spiciness of the chicken and onions but I wasn’t so crazy about the empanadas. They were a bit bland with just cheese but there were plenty other specialties to try, like homemade tortillas.

    Full disclosure: I'm a tortilla snob. My hometown of Chicago has tons of authentic Mexican restaurants and I also have a Mexican sister-in-law who regularly whips up the real thing. So I never see any good reason to touch those awful packaged tortillas. Homemade tortillas and chips supply so much more flavor and texture. So I almost died when this bona fide basket of fried corn tortillas was served at Punta Morena restaurant. Covered in habanero salsa and guacamole, these chips made me want to stay in Cozumel forever.

    Bebidas (drinks) offer an important counterpoint to meals. I didn't see much Margarita gulping or tequila swigging with the locals. Rum and Coke or Cuba Libres; Micheladas or dark Yucatan beer mixed with lemon, soy sauce, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce; and my personal fave, Jarritos — soda flavored with tamarind — seemed to be the local drink choices.

    The region's most famous beverage is Xtabentun, a Mayan honey liqueur flavored with anise and traces of licorice.

    At Punta Morena restaurant, the Xtabentun was served with pineapple juice. The taste was deceptively light and sweet, it reminded me a lot of Tej — the Ethiopian honey wine.

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    Other local dishes I sampled that had me savoring every morsel included pescado tikinxic, another flavorful Mayan specialty that features fish rubbed with achiote, a spice made from the annatto plant and baked in banana leaves; and for breakfast, I also tried the chilaquiles con pollo, a dish of fried tortilla strips topped with chicken, cream and a red tomato sauce, along with Mexican turnip greens with tomatoes and peppers.

    But of course, one of my favorite taste sensations was enjoyed every night when I returned to my room to discover a plate of decadent desserts waiting for me.  Chocolate was originally created in Mexico and there seemed to be some aspect of it on every dessert menu in Cozumel. There were lots of tortas or cakes filled with chocolate but my fave dessert was a Mexican chocolate mousse flavored with cinnamon and chiles.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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