Warm, sunny Mexico where you have to drive hours just to get anywhere. We started our trip flying first class to Houston and then to Mexico because those were the only tickets left and ended up driving 6 hours from Acapulco (gracias to Tio S for picking us up) to get to abuelitas (sorry JP, it's too annoying to write JP's uncle or JP's grandma, so I'll stick to Spanish and that way you know they're yours and not mine) on Christmas eve. Luckily, tortillas, chorizo and other meats and salsa was still left so we pretty much devoured those upon arriving. I have to mention that I take spice waaaay better than JP apparently, who was sniffling after eating some of the salsa. +1 for me.
The next few days we drove ourselves around to see other Tias and Tios and each time we were fed. It was a very bad idea to have a full breakfast on Christmas day since Tia Y decided to feed us about 4 hours later, after we had been munching on roasted pumpkin seeds. And its ridiculously difficult to turn down or eat little when the food is so good. It was during this time that we discovered that Fresca and tequila are a fantastic combination. I don't think I had dinner that night. I couldn't stomach it. But the next morning was spent eating chicken mole and tortillas fresh off the tortilla machine at Tia L's and then taking her little munchkins and then some over to some hot springs nearby. And then afterwards off we went again, this time to peanut town (Cacahuatepec, which wikipedia actually tells me means "place of Cacao-bean mountain" and not "peanut town") to see some abuelas and tias and tios and primas and primos (new and old, including C and K). And to eat some more (again, was SO not expecting this especially after the chicken mole earlier in the day).
After two days and three nights at abuelitas, we set off for Puerto Escondido where JP's mama now has an almost-completed house near the beach (aka free accomodations for us!). On the way we stopped by Tia B's and Tio S's (who had picked us up at the airport) where I became a starfruit convert. That's right. Starfruit. This wasn't the green-ish stuff you see in American grocery stores or sliced onto cakes. These were bright yellow, juicy, super sweet and just picked by us. Best starfruit ever.
We came back two days later with AP and FI and went on a 4-hour boat excursion from Zapotalito through the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park which included dry land and mangrove forests, a transmission that failed, a crocodile hatchery (those things are creepy), and just-caught fish cooked to order. Pick-your-raw-fish:
Fish cooked to order (sauteed in oil and garlic and steamed in guajillo chile sauce), eyeballs and all:
Apparently, last time we were in Puerto, it was off-season because I remember having the beach to ourselves. Not so this time - these people were literally being dropped off at the beaches by the BUSLOAD. There were tour buses lined up along the sidewalks. Not a joke. No clue where they came from but it was crowded.
Huge difference from our previous trip in May 2009 when we pretty much had the beach to ourselves, so much so that the boat men asked guys on the beach for help pushing their boats into the water. This is the same beach but much closer to the far end in the above picture:
Best and worst non-homecooked meals of the trip? Worst meal - Los Tugas at Villas Carrizalillo. It looked so promising - great reviews online for the most part, located in a nice hotel on a cliff overlooking the ocean, promising menu and down a sketchy dirt road with little signage. Unfortunately, when we got there we were told they have no fish (we're on the water...can't you go catch some?), no other seafood except for calamari and mussels, and no guacamole. So no seafood and no guac. This just sounds wrong with a Mexican beach town. And then our entrees were a disaster. Tamarind chile sauce should not be slightly-spiced mayo the color of thousand island dressing. Anyhow, at least my 3 or 4 tamarind margaritas did the trick for me and numbed the pain of the final bill.
Best was of course a random place called La Juquilena which serves regional antojitos in the middle of town next to the bus station . Seating is at communal tables in a veranda-like space with no windows or doors. A super simple menu features mainly sopes, huaraches, quesadillas and tlayudas for next to nothing (accompanied by two kinds of salsa). My two sopes, one with chorizo and one with quesillo (a Oaxacan specialty that is reminiscent of string-cheese) were 4 pesos each, and the huarache with chorizo was 12 pesos.
I think the most expensive thing was the tlayuda with meat but it couldn't have been more than 20 pesos or so. And some agua de melon to wash all this down. Total cost for the five of us, including drinks? Under 250 pesos with tip.
Somewhere in the middle comes El Cafecito, where the food is nothing amazing but at least reliable. I remembered why I wasn't a huge fan of their chilaquiles rojas last time - they're not soft all the way through because the sauce hasn't had time to soak into the tortillas. That doesn't mean I didn't eat it all, which I did.
And I ate the molletes the next day, prepared with in-house baked bread smothered with refried black beans and more quesillo. I topped it off with some salsa rather than pico de gallo. JP also says their huevos con chorizo are pretty good too.
And, if you're pescatarian (or vegetarian I suppose), you can always go to the restaurant at the Hotel Santa Fe which overlooks Playa Zicatela. Strong margaritas, tostadas that hit the spot (despite being overloaded with lettuce), tasty guac and piping hot quesillo quesadillas. But it comes with a decently hefty price tag by Mexican standards.
The coolest thing we had had to have been the new paletas they are serving at some of the ice cream stands. Unlike regular paletas which are pretty much reminiscent of regular popsicles but better and in crazy natural flavors (tamarind is a personal favorite, but we also had coconut, chamoy and pina con chile from the store in the picture above), these paletas are long and skinny and were then (optionally) dipped in chamoy, rolled in chili and topped off with more chamoy sauce making it taste sweet, sour, salty and spicy all at the same time. Umami on a popsicle if you will.