After five fun food-filled days in Cancun, David and I headed off to Playa del Carmen on the search for more fun and food. I’m happy to report, both were found. Playa del Carmen, a small resort town on the Mayan Riviera, is very different to Cancun in that it’s very walkable. The main street — Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue — is pedestrian-only as is Benito Juarez east of 5th Avenue. The great thing about that, besides the convenience of course, is that it make it perfect for food vendors. On 5th Avenue it’s mostly restaurants with a fresh juice cart early in the morning, but on the corner of Benito Juarez and 5th Avenue, it’s street eats galore! In the morning there are taco and empanada carts, and in the afternoon there are tamal, taco, and churro carts. All were good, but one of my favorites (and David’s ultimate favorite) was the tamal cart which had the best tamales I’ve ever eaten.
The cart is run by two ladies who set up shop late in the afternoon on the corner of Benito Juarez and 5th avenue, across the street from the ADO Bus Station.
In addition to tamales, the cart also sells elote (MXN $15 / USD $1.14). David and I are big fans of elote, so that was something we couldn’t pass up. The elote in Playa though was very different from the elote we’re used to in New York. First of all, the corn wasn’t grilled, rather it was boiled and/or steamed; second, the corn was slathered with straight-up mayonnaise as opposed to a cream-mayo blend; third, the cheese the corn was rolled in wasn’t crumbly but grated in strips; fourth, instead of chili powder, the corn was drizzled with a dark, smokey hot sauce; and fifth, the most drastic difference of them all, the elote wasn’t made with sweet corn. For those of you who are Asian, you may know of glutinous corn (called waxy corn in North America), a popular variety of corn in Asian comprised of thick, chewy kernels with the barest amount of sweetness. When I was little, I always wondered why anyone would want to eat glutinous corn when sweet yellow corn existed, but now I’m older and wiser and enjoy it for the texture. However, in terms of elote, I still may have some growing to do. The elote from the cart was made with either glutinous corn or a variant of it. I can’t say I was a fan, but it was definitely interesting. It did make for a heartier snack, but heartier wasn’t actually what I was looking for. I would have preferred sweet corn, and think it would have complemented the smokey hot sauce more, but to each his/her own, I guess.
As for the tamales, two types are sold at the cart, one savory (above left) and one sweet (above right). Both cost MXN $15 (USD $1.14).
The savory tamales are Yucatecan-style tamales called vaporcitos. These tamales are larger, rectangular in shape, less dense, more moist, and wrapped in banana leaves as opposed to corn husks. The banana leaf imparts a slight vegetal taste, but the best part is the texture, extremely smooth, almost like soft tofu.
As for the innards, the savory is filled with braised chicken in a spicy red sauce, and there’s a lot of it. One had a whole chicken drumette in it, bones and all, in addition to more dark meat. Another a whole wing. You get the picture. It’s good eating, and more of a meal than a snack.
If spicy isn’t your thing, they also have sweet tamales that are very similar to the smaller corn husk tamales found outside of the Yucatan and in the States. The shape is similar and so is the coarser, denser texture, but the steamed masa is sweetened. It reminded me of sweet corn bread but heavier, and had me wishing for a little butter or cheese. Unadorned it’s a bit plain and dry. Again, to each his/her own. I much preferred the savory tamales and even smuggled three back to New York in my suitcase. If I had my way though, I’d have brought back the entire cart and the two ladies. Too bad for the additional baggage fees.
Corner of 5th Avenue and Benito Juarez (across the street from the ADO Bus Station)
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico