Memorable Meals in México 3: Mérida
When I first moved to Ciudad Guzmán, a little under five years ago, I rented an apartment just off a street, Calle Pascual Galindo Ceballos, in the center of the city. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this street. It was a typical street, running one way east to west for about five hundred meters and finishing in the corner of the main Plaza.
As I walked up and down the street, I started to notice the range of shops and activities that this street contained. It struck me that it would be possible to spend one’s whole life not needing to go beyond the limits of the street. There was a large Franciscan church, a Funeral Parlour, a dentist and at least three Doctors’ consulting rooms. There were small grocery stores on three of the corners. There was an excellent bakery, a handful of restaurants, and a cafe with a shiny Gaggia machine and superb home made cakes. Later someone started a bar in one of the old colonial houses on a street corner. There were two gyms. There was a shoe shop and an opticians. There was a shop selling all kinds of material for curtains where it was possible to buy sheets and towels. There were a number of shops specialising in electronic repairs as well as somewhere to cut keys and frame pictures. In short, it was a typical small town Mexican street.
When I was staying in Mérida recently, I had a similar experience. I was staying at the Hotel Trinidad , participating in the conference I wrote about in an earlier post. For two days, I had severe bronchitis and did not attend the conference. As I was not well, my movements were limited to the streets in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, located at number 464 Calle 62, close to the corner with Calle 55, and about 400 meters from the main plaza.
Fortunately, there were an abundance of good places to eat and cafes where I could sit for hours drinking tea, coffee and chocolate.
The best place I found to eat is an extraordinary little restaurant called el cangrejito (the little crab) at No 523 Calle 57. Even knowing the address, I walked past it the first time. It looks like a hole-in-the-wall and there is nothing outside to identify it as el cangrejito.
Inside there are two rooms decorated with photos of various luminaries who have eaten in el Cangrejito, including Pope Juan Pablo II – he is on the frame at the top right of the photo above as you look at it. The first room as you enter has a glass counter where the different options for tacos are displayed. I ate here three times and each time what was on offer differed, depending I guess on what was available in the market that day. Normally there were prawns, lobster, fish cooked in breadcrumbs, and a variety of white fish.
Never have I seen anyone make tacos so first. You explained what you wanted and then in a flurry of rapid hand movements the tacos appeared on a plate as the man serving put together the fish chosen with different salsas, guacamole, and other garnishings. What a treat for the taste buds! Eating six tacos here with a beer or refresco cost about 100 pesos (7USD).
I also tried the Marlin Azul on Calle 62, which, like el cangrejito, was recommended both in the Rough Guide and on David Sterling’s excellent site about his Yucatan cookery school, which includes reviews of many restaurants in Mérida. The ceviche here was good but I preferred el cangrejito.
Almost opposite the Marlin Azul is another good restaurant, el Trepiche. El Trepiche makes it to number 6 in Trip Adviser’s list of best Merida restauarants. I would not normally have ventured inside because I would have been put off tby the menu advertising pizzas outside but it was the only place I was told that would be open for tacos when I arrived late one Friday night. And the tacos were excellent. The next night I had lime soup which was also excellent. And the place is really good value for money. Who knows, maybe the pizzas are great too, but the Yucatan cooking was fine.
I found two good cafes on Calle 62. They are both called El Hoyo. One, shown in the photo above, is open from around 9am until 6pm and serves great coffee. The other has the same name, is closer to Hotel Trinidad on the other side of the road, and specialises in teas. I had some of the best green tea here I have ever tasted. Both have internet access and are very pleasant places to sit.
Just around the corner from Hotel Trinidad in Calle 55, between Calles 60 and 62 is another small cafe, Called ki’ XOCOATL, also with internet access, specialising in chocolate. This is made with 100% organic Mexican cocoa with either milk or water and can be served hot or cold according to taste. They also have wonderful brownies.
Finally, La Chaya on the corner of Calle 62 and Calle 46, completes the roll-call of restaurants I visited around Hotel Trinidad. The restaurant specialises in traditional Yucatán cooking and is Number 1 on Trip Adviser’s list of best Merida restaurants. I went there at the suggestion of a friend because – like large adverts for pizza – normally people dressed in local costumes (even making tortillas by hand and wearing anti-flu masks) is a warning-off sign for me. Chaya, also known as tree spinach, is a fast-growing shrub native to the Yucatán. It was used extensively by the Mayans. As well as using it for cooking in the restaurant, they make a lovely refreshing drink with the leaves. The food here was good, though more expensive than the other places I visited.
To conclude, I would like to give a ringing endorsement to the Hotel Trinidad. This is a decidedly idiosyncratic hotel, full of quirky artworks and eccentric touches like wooden parrots in huge cages and signs telling people not to feed the possum. I has always assumed a possum was a soft cuddly creature, like a koala bear without claws, but in fact it looks like a large long tailed rat with huge ears.
As you can see from what I have written above, the hotel has a marvellous location close to the main plaza and within easy walking distance of these great cafes and restaurants. In attending the conference, I had the choice of staying at the Fiesta Americana, an ugly, soulless monstrosity which could be anywhere in the world – to give rein to my prejudices – at a specially negotiated conference rate of 100USD per night, and this hotel, with a spacious room, private bathroom, air-conditioning and continental breakfast for around 30USD per night. I did not regret my choice.