As noted previously, Tulum is a hippy-chic hangout that makes room for all demographics. It is basically one beach road and all the hotels, restaurants and hangouts that fit long its 5k corridor. Sitting about in the middle is the the kitchy Mateo’s Mexican Grill.
Some might complain that Mateo’s is not “authentic” and too gringo friendly, but they would be missing the point. Like modern television, Mateo’s is a comfortable, friendly, easy place to go when you don’t want to think to hard about what you are doing.
They seemed to be open whenever we needed them to be and had the best coffee in the area. Sorry to report, this is not saying much as Mexican coffee in general is almost always like bad camping coffee, over-boiled café con leche. They do have a nice breakfast selection, tasty fajitas, totopos and of course a range of tacos. The kitchen is open and colorful with pyramids of fresh produce displayed in brightly painted crates.
Perched above is a viewing platform that in theory is an evening cocktail lounge for sunset viewing or maybe its a yoga platform? or a tanning deck? While it looked very interesting, it somehow wound up being closed for 3 different reasons over the course of our 3 days in Tulum. Maybe they just have it open in high season? Still it looks like it would be a lot of fun!!
While in Tulum we stopped by Mateo’s almost daily for the excellent smoothies and juices (and coffee fixes). Our favorite smoothie, which we have been recreating at home is the ‘Mayan Power Boost’. A vitamin packed cocktail 0f chaya (spinach), strawberry, pineapple and lemon. A wonderful way to get the day going as you head out to check some cenotes.
We can just about promise you that if you stay in Tulum, at some point you will find yourself at Mateo’s. Enjoy it for what it is and you will be a happy person!
papaya agua and ‘Mayan Power Boost’. A vitamin packed cocktail 0f chaya (spinach), strawberry, pineapple and lemon.
Biko, another of Mexico DF’s restaurant jewels, is full of surprising textures, colors, flavors, scents and emotions. Looking at the two extremely artistic and diverse chefs, one can see where all of this creativity comes from.
Mikel Alonso is originally from Biarritz, part of the French Basque country. He majored in chemical engineering, and then decided to delve into Culinary Artistry at one of the most prestigious schools in Spain – the Luis Irizar in San Sebastian. Soon after, a job offer brought him to Mexico where he met Bruno Oteiza, a young Basque with an extensive resume, having worked in top restaurants both in Europe and Mexico. From these two wonderful minds, comes the creation of Biko.
For the last three years Biko has been included in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants and this year (2012) it has been awarded with the #38 position. Biko offers three menus: ‘Creative’,’Traditional’ and a chef’s tasting menu. The orientation is avaunt-grade Basque with a Mexican adaptation.
We were welcomed with a foam of beetroots, quite very gentle flavour and ethereal texture, while retaining the robust earthiness of the beet. Happily, we chose 5 dishes and desert from the Creative menu- as it seemed the most exciting! The staff was very knowledgeable and accommodating. An amiable touch was that when they noticed we were sharing, they plated each dish into half-portions for each of us, so we could better share the presentations individually.
Unfortunately, we were not able to take photos of our meal as we were only able to visit during dinner service. We think it is a bit rude during that time to bring out the camera and lights, etc in such a formal environment. So the photos do not match up with what we so scrumptiously enjoyed. Hopefully the words will bring out the flavors that live on in our pallets!
“Espárragos con Aromas de Campo” – White asparagus braised in the salamander with a mojo de alcaravea, rosemary and verdolagas bathed in a vinaigrette of green and white asparagus, topped by a sheet of camomile and flowers.
This dish could have been an example in any of the Modernist Cuisine Cookbooks. Delicate and delightful, truly giving off the smells of a sunny alpine meadow. A bit of gelatinized chamomile suspend over the bed of asparagus below. Each bite was light and promising, like the first day of spring.
What we found very impressive over the course of the meal was how each dish was more powerful then the prior. We ordered in no particular sequence, but the kitchen presented each dish in perfect progression. With the flavors continually growing stronger and the denser. As an accomplished sommelier will trot out white wines, then roses and finally the reds during a tasting. Such that the heavy flavors do not overwhelm the palette and hide the finesse of the lighter grapes.
“Hamachi y Aguacate” – Hamachi marinated in mirin, dark beer and soy sauce with avocado and micro croutons.
We just about ordered this simple yet exquisite dish again for dessert. The perfectly supple Yellow Tail was bathed in a sweet and sultry glaze. The fish was so soft that it reviled the avocado. Simple idea with mouth-watering results.
“Nuestro Frijol Liquido” – Liquified beans poured over a dumpling of shrimp with Avocado with a touch of Avocado leaves
The bowl arrived with a perfectly spherical ball of shrimp melded with avocado, surrounded by a sprinkling of herbs. This treasure was then buried under a bean broth poured over the top by the waiter, after we had a chance to take in the composition. Strong in flavor and delicate in texture, this was an outstanding soup breathed the aroma of earthiness from the pureed beans.
“Pescado con Costra de Hongos y Refrito Aireado” – Robolo (Sea Bass) grilled with sauce of mushrooms and almonds, with potatoes and fried quintonil and an espuma of fried garlic oil, vinegar and porrusalda.
A very nice fish that would have been much more memorable had it not been for the life-altering dish that came after and wiped it from memory ….
“Pescado en Pipián” – Robolo (Sea Bass) with a light pumpkin seed mole sauce, subtly flavored with purslane radish
One bite put me into shock. I was not able to take another bit of food, and could barely move, for approximately 3 minutes. Stunning in the literal sense of the word. I believe that this Pescado en Pipián is the perfection of Sous Vide cooking. The fish was moist and fresh and little puffs of steam came up and it just melted in your mouth. It was wrapped in a green cake of pumpkin-seed (Pipián) mole. Mole is almost never used for seafood, but in this case you can see how tradition can better for change. After having the Roboalo with Habenero and Polenta earlier in the day at Dulce Patria, we were very worried that it was not possible to produce a better Robolo.. Happily we were so very wrong!
“Frutas con pieles de otras frutas“ (Fruits with the skin of other fruits)
– Roasted seasonal fruit wrapped in skin of other fruit (yes you read that correctly!) and topped with puree of raspberry and green pepper. Accompanied pulque bread ice cream
Ok, this we ordered just for the name and concept, and conceptually it is amazing.
“Trufas Bronceadas“– Spheres of molten chocolate dusted with bronze, served beside wine cured strawberries, an oven-dried fried pulque & nut cake, served with butter & lemon ice cream.
However, no dessert can stand next to the ‘Bronzed Truffles’. Easily one of the most spectacular of desserts we’ve ever had! Spectacular being also in the form of spectacle – an amazing performance by a dessert! This was a 4 stage process that was a true culmination to an evening of gastronomy that had built from the first bite.
Fill your mouth with the malto-dextrin and let it melt on your tongue. (Think powdered sugar).
Place the spherified molten chocolate truffle in your mouth with the wine-marinated strawberry and wait until it explodes, a chocolate bomb going off in your mouth.
Follow this with the dehydrated cake to soak up the chocolate and add the slight woodiness of the nuts.
Taste the completely opposite, yet complimentary pallatte cleansing flavor of the lemon butter iced cream.
We immediately ordered the Trufas Bronceadas a second time. It is not meant to, nor do you wish to, share!
After a short, but impressive, time in Mexico enjoying the barrage of flavors that assaulted us each time we ventured outside. It was amazing to see a restaurant really stand out above the rest. Biko is true 3 hour culinary artistry journey that had us traverse a perfect plot triangle.
above – Trufas Bronceadas
(52) 55 5282 2064
Presidente Masaryk 407 Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 1550 Mexico City, DF, Mexico
Tulum itself is a much chiller place then we expected after hearing it’s name for years in travel circles. It is the essence of hippy-chic with a lovely variety of hotels and restaurants; none of which cross into pretension or put you off. We stopped into many for a look at the rooms, grounds and menu.
Be Tulum is one of the more boutique of the hotels along the jungle road that is the main drag of Tulum. An impressive gateway led through to a luxurious garden, full of green palms and hanging candles. A winding footpath crawled its way towards the ocean, past a series of two story bungalows, each room with a very small private pool.
Here one runs into the only problem with Tulum. As it is prime vacation territory, the ocean-front lots can be a bit small, and in the case of Be Tulum a bit overbuilt. A few less bungalows and a even just 2 meters more buffer between the path and the rooms would give the privacy one wants for the price-tag.
At the end of the path, lies the main pool, bar and dining area. Definitely among the the most stylish of all the hotel bars in the area, it was well adorned with design furniture and a fashionable crown of good-looking adults. The menu looked tasty, if not overwhelmingly Mexican, being mostly sushi and ceviches; but with El Tábano up the street your not far from your gastronomic fix . The beach as always in Tulum is of wonderfully fine sand and blue water, if a bit narrow and public.
If you are looking for a place that is out of the bikini-catalog, I think Be Tulum could be it.
El Tábano is first on the list of many a foodie review of Tulum. So it was with some excitement that we ducked through the driftwood gate, into the open garden littered with tables and easing with well curated music. The short answer is that El Tábano has by far the best dining in the area and owners Paf and Laura deserve all the kudos they receive.
Our lead was the cold tomatoe and papaya gazpacho. Spectacularly refreshing, cool and sweet it was an instant winner, reinvigorating the palate on a hot afternoon. Next the plates started coming quickly, a fresh guacamole salad, an organic bean salad, huitlacoche crepes, chili ancho stuffed with shrimp and nuts – each plate radiating forth with its own perfumed flavor contour, as dishes in Mexico tend to do.
The fresh fish tacos were quite good, but not quite as mind-boggling as those from the Viceroy in Playa del Carmen, which are very very very hard to top. A highlight was the hot pepper salsa which was made fresh on our request. The tomatillos and chillies were still warm from the stove top!
The menu changes consistently, and is quite malleable, as it is only chalk on the large blackboards by the entrance; easily alterable. It is good to arrive early as items are only available until they run out, which they did 3 of the 3 times we were there. Pricing is quite reasonable and many of the ingredients organic. El Tábano was also where we were able to purchase the flowery local Yucatan honey (you should do this too!).
In the evenings bug spray and/or long pants and chosed shoes are recommended for dinner. As you are dining in a garden, there are plenty mosquitoes at night. Though as we forgot, the waiter was on-hand with a solution! The staff is relaxed and friendly, happily chatting about each dish. If you find yourself in Tulum, for everyone’s benefit, please remember that you are in the Caribbean, and probably in need of a vacation. So please don’t get short if the staff runs at a slightly slower speed then they do at home.
Avocado, Mint, Cucumber Soup
Fresh Hot Pepper & Tomatillo Salsa
Plantain Rolls filled with Cheese
Roasted tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Diced Apples
Bring a hat, comfortable shoes and a if you have it, a fan. Chichen Itza sits in the middle of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and there is not much shade. As you walk through the sprawling complex, you can easily imagine the Maya sweltering in the sun as they gathered at the base of the pyramid or around the ball grounds..
We recommend renting a car, it’s cheap and, most importantly, gives you the freedom of moving at your own speed. There is so much to explore just around Chichen Itza, like the beaurtiful Cenote de Dzitnup. It also allows you to arrive closer to sunrise. Like all the archeological sites, the earlier you can arrive the better. Seeing the pyramids and the layout without the garish field of tourists really changes the entire experience. This is one of the main sites within easy distance of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, etc … The buses start arriving and don’t stop.
Access is a bit of a hurdle. It is a multi-step process that bears description (and improvement!). The fist booth just to the right side of the gate sells you entry tickets, then you must continue to another booth about 20 meters up on the left to pay the entry taxes. This two step process is not adequately explained, and from the moment you arrive you will encounter countless offers of guides who are all to happy to walk you through the swirling mass of confused tourists.
Here, like in any archeological site, getting a guide is recommended, but is always a lottery. On this occasion, our guide we hired for 500 pesos (about $35) was not good at all. He avoided major sections (The Ossario, Observatory and the Nunnery) and gave a lot of vauge answers (every area was ‘the market’!). As we were walking, we continually were eavesdropping on larger groups, and we heard other guides who where passionate about the Mayas and eager to share their impressive depth of knowledge. So take your time and choose a guide that you believe in. There are also new apps, likeTimeTours: Chichen Itza, which offer a different experience. TimeTours offers interactive views of the current state and 3d renders of what Chichen Itza may have looked like in its full glory.
The name ‘Chichen Itza’ translates as the ‘mouth of the well of the Itza’. The Itza were an ethnic lineage group of the Maya civilization, while Chi signifies ‘mouth’ and ch’en ‘well’.
Chichen Itza was first settled in 750–900 AD and became one of the largest Maya cities, home to around 65,000 people. In the late 900’s a migration of Toltec warriors overtook the city. It was the Toltecs who imposed the rituals of human sacrifice and are responsible for much of what is considered “Mayan” today. By the time the Spaniards arrived to Chichen Itza in the 1500’s, the city had been abandoned as a consequence of civil war.
To this day, archeologists continues to dig and new discoveries arise every year. Recent excavations into the interior of the Kukulkan pyramid reveal that a smaller pyramid exists inside!
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
Dominating the landscape is the temple of Kukulkan, the Maya Feathered Serpent Deity. This massive four faced pyramid measures about 53.3 meters along each side, from the center of which rises a steep stair to the ceremonial platform on top. On the northeastern face, flanking the base of the staircase, are sculpted heads of serpents. During the spring and autumn equinoxes festivals are held to watch the dying sun align with the terraces of the pyramid, casting a shadow along the balustrade, giving the illusion of a snake descending the steps. Put in a photo of the snake
The sight of many standing in front of the Kukulkan pyramid madly clapping their hands is a bit strange until you arrive and begin to do it yourself. The clap produces and echo, designed to sound similar to the quetzal bird’s cry. It is amazing to imagine the ancient times, the grounds filled with people all rhythmically clapping and the air filled with the echoes of the quetzal cry.
Unfortunately visitors can no longer climb the pyramid due its soft lime-stone construction and that a tourist died after tripping and falling from the top, a new sacrifice to the Maya Gods!
At Chichen Itza is one of the largest and best preserved ball courts from ancient times. The pitch measures 168m by 70 meters, with the parallel platforms aligning the playing alley being about 90 meters long and about 8 meters high. It was a brutal game where the teams would punt the 10 pound hard rubber ball around with their protected hips and try to get it to the captain, who would be running along the side platform. There he would try to put the ball up through the carved stone ring at the top center to score and win the game. After a goal, the captain of the winning team would be given have the honor of decapitation. It is from this we can glean that the Maya did not fear death, but looked upon it as an honor or gateway.
Zompantli (skull) Platform
Platform of the Skulls (Zompantli )
At the exit ofthe great ball court sits the Zompantli, the Platorm of the Skulls. Here the skulls of sacrificial victims, game winners and others were pierced into beams or perched on stakes and exhibited to those filing out after the match.
Temple of the Big Tables
Temple of the Big Tables
This smaller pyramid’s name comes from the series of altars at the top of the structure that are supported by small carved figures of men with upraised arms.
Temple of the Warriorsviewed from the Temple of the Big Tables
Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors
Adjacent to the Temple of the Big Tables is a medium size pyramid with steep sides known as the Temple of the Warriors. It is surrounded by dozens of columns, each with carved reliefs depicting warriors. Unfortuneatly, very few of the warrior carvings survive. As is often the case, this temple encases a previous building, possibly a temple of Chac-Mool.
Southeast Colonnadenext to the Temple of the Warriors