Mérida, México
November 2016

Now the food is getting serious. The waiter at La Chaya Maya sets down the sizzling plate and says something about it being hot. I can feel the steam emanating from within the mound of banana leaves. Carefully, I slit them open and pull them apart.

Inside is pollo pibil, a half chicken roasted in banana leaves and served with steamed onions and tomatoes. I had a late lunch today, so I may not be hungry enough to finish this feast. But I’m going to try.

This is the real thing. The meat falls from the bones easily.It’s been twenty years since I’ve had a proper pollo pibil. That was during my first visit to Yucatán, in Ticul, near Uxmal. I’ve attempted to prepare it a couple times at home, but I can’t get banana leaves at my supermarket and aluminum foil doesn’t do the trick. The result comes out bland and dry, a gringo’s insult to the culinary gods.

This is the real thing. The meat falls from the bones easily. It tastes very good. I’ve almost swallowed a couple of tiny bones and a little cartilage, but I’m making it through. Somehow within a half hour, I pick it clean.

Dessert? Of course. No flan on the menu today, but I have a dish of huayas, a grape-like fruit served in a syrup with a little cinnamon. It counteracts the rustic bite of the chicken, leaving me with a fresh palate. I’m happy now.

Featured image courtesy La Chaya Maya, Mérida


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