Between C1 and Salsa
San Miguel, Cozumel
Downtown San Miguel is a cruise ship port with a lot of touristy shops. I am not excited about that stuff, as it is like Gatlinburg, Fisherman's Wharf, Faneuil Hall, South Street Sea Port, Inner Harbor, Alaskan cruise ports, Bahama cruise port, all rolled into a Mexican island setting. It makes my cringe because it is all generic trappings that are made in China tee-shirts and trinkets made for the generic USA American tourist. At the port, there is a Hard Rock, McDonalds and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville which are all USA corporation ventures. My question is why would USA Americans venture to a foreign country to eat and drink USA American consumables when there is a rich Mexican history and food heritage waiting to be discovered? Do people really like this stuff? We walked as fast as we could to get out of that generic open air strip mall of USA Americanized junk.
It was time for us to get an early dinner, and we walked a few blocks off the touristy area, and found a semi-open air diner call Mi Chabelita, a self proclaimed cochina economica (a fast and cheap eatery). There were a couple Mexican families dining there, not one tourist but us, and it appeared to be family owned. Not one person working there spoke English, so my dining companion dug deep into his high school Spanish to make it all work out for us. It was so nice to be off the beaten path, in a locally owned establishment.
We started by trying to order drinks. There were a few copies of menus floating around with a few drinks listed, but really Mi Chabelita had a specials board with 8 entrees and one drink listed. After a couple of smiles and nods on my part, after a few broken Spanish words on Matt's part, we all settled on 2 house special drinks. We did not know what we were getting, but we knew we were getting 2, one for each of us. The drinks came in big fish bowl goblets and were a papaya and watermelon fresh fruit punch. My drink was just refreshing and cool for a warm Mexican day.
We ordered a #8 off of the menu board, and that was enchiladas with mole. The dish came and it was chicken wrapped in homemade corn tortillas covered in dark mole and creme fraiche and a sprinkle of farmer's cheese. The mole was dark, complex, slightly sweet, slightly hot peppery, slightly earthy, and slightly pungent. The mole was perfectly matched with the homey creaminess of the creme fraiche. This was the best mole I have ever had in my life. The tortillas were surprisingly light and just filled with the right amount of shredded chicken. I could have just ordered more of the mole and eaten it, but as the waiter delivered our food to our table, he leaned over to the menu board and erased the enchiladas with mole. There was no more to be had for the day.
I got the chilaquilles. This is the spelling as it appeared on the menu, so I honor this spelling. Some may know this dish by other similar and phonetic spellings, but this is how this sweet little restaurant opted to spell this dish. A chilaquilles dish is like so many other hodge podge, leftovers, or stew dishes around the world . Chilaquilles is Mexico's answer to leftover stews, chop suey, succotash, casseroles etc. This chilaquilles dish had a layers of homemade corn tortillas, fresh tomato puree, shredded chicken, creme fraishe, farmer's cheese, and onion. The tortillas were so great! The tortilla texture was slightly thicker than what I can get in the USA and had an al dente quality. The flavor was such a wonderful deep corn maize flavor that is missing from USA tortillas. I have tried making my own tortillas from the dried masa, but the flavor and texture my tortillas do not come close to these tortillas in my dish. The toppings of chicken, cheese, onions and creme fraishe were lightly layered, and not one ingredient overwhelmed the dish. This simple "toss together the leftovers" dish was heart warming, homey and comforting.
I ordered rice too because there is a thing about Chinese people having to have rice everyday or else the day isn't right. Since I was raised in the USA, I don't have that need to eat rice daily, but for this trip, I decided to order rice where ever I could for the kitchy factor.
What do I need to say about Cozumel and moving off the USA Americanized path to see, eat and drink? Well, Cozumel actually does have central drinking water processing facility that services the island with water that is equal to any water you can get from any municipal water supply in the USA. It is perfectly safe to drink the water, and eat foods rinsed in water. The fountain drinks, coffee and tea are made with tap water, and were just fine to drink. Cozumel also has an efficient waste water treatment plant as well, and another treatment plant coming online soon, but they cannot process paper (including toilet paper), so any toilet paper used should go in the trash barrel next to the toilet, not in the toilet.
We talked to a cab driver from Cozumel about the flurry of development happening on his island, and he is not happy with foreign corporations coming in and building to make money instead of having money stay with the people of Mexico. Once the waterfront properties are built up by foreign owned corporations, that waterfront resource is gone from the people of Mexico forever. It was important to me to visit locally owned Mexican businesses while I was on the island of Cozumel. If I were home, I would try to patronize locally owned businesses first, and so be it the same in Cozumel. I think we had a richer experience for that.
Labels: Cozumel Eats