From fiery chiles to bittersweet chocolate, the distinctive ingredients of the ancient Maya are inspiring modern chefs like never before.
At the new Chef’s Table at the Royal Hideaway Playacar on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, pre-Hispanic ingredients are enhanced by European techniques under the direction of executive chef Raul Vaquerizo, who honed his culinary skills in Spain. At Las Ventanas, the resort’s signature restaurant, culinary explorers have the opportunity to interact with Vaquerizo and venture into cuisines inspired by traditional Mayan foods such as pozole (soup made with hominy), pavo (wild turkey) and tamarind (a bitter orange fruit).
Curious diners watch their meal being prepared via a live video feed from the kitchen. Plasma screens mounted on each table display Vaquerizo’s fusion of Yucateca flavours, one of Mexico’s most distinctive cuisines, with the molecular gastronomy techniques learned from Ferran Adrià, the superstar chef of Spain’s elBulli Restaurant.
Beyond the resort, the bounty of local traditional Mayan cuisine awaits epicurean adventurers who won’t want to miss regional specialties in local cantinas or a visit to local food markets, where Vaquerizo sources ingredients for dishes such as watermelon soup, shrimp tempura and lobster gratin.
The renowned chef shares his thoughts on the evolution of Mayan cuisine, must-have local staples and where to find them in Cancun and Cozumel.
Q&A with Raul Vaquerizo
How are you changing the belief that Mexican food is just burritos and tacos?
The incredible range of ingredients in Mexico offers chefs huge potential gastronomically, and enables us to surprise guests with new culinary sensations and experiences.
How do you preserve the millennia-old flavours of pre-Hispanic cuisine when using leading European techniques?
My team of chefs aims to elevate traditional tastes by providing unexpected contrasts of flavour, temperature and texture, but maintaining the essence of the product.
Which distinctive Yucatan ingredients do you find particularly inspiring?
Of course epazote [a pungent herb], cactus, chayote [squash], hoja santa [an aromatic heart-shaped herb], grasshoppers, and the many types of cheese. One of the foods that is exciting me the most these days is the variations of corn, such as pozole.
Where to Shop
Leave the all-inclusive buffets and stock up on local ingredients and kitchen gear here
Also known as Mercado Veintiocho, this Cancun handicraft market just off Avenida Yaxchilan and Sunyaxchen (a block away from the post office), offers bargain prices in a flea market atmosphere. Don’t leave without picking up your molcajete, a stone mortar and pestle used for grinding chiles and spices.
Soriana + Mega Comercial Mexicana
These massive supermarkets near Avenida Kabah in Cancun offer extended shopping hours and interesting browsing. Top finds include lightweight tortilla warmers and salsa bowls.
Head to this Cozumel municipal market located at Avenida 25 and Adolfo Rosado Salas for fresh spices, bottled hot sauces and cookware.
Mega Comercial Mexicana
Located on Avenida Rafael E. Melgar, this Cozumel supermarket carries handy pre-mixed bags of cinnamon, achiote and spices.