My truly fabulous sister recently returned from a much deserved week’s vaca in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. A vacation which I was really dying to crash.
I cannot help but journey back (mentally, of course) to the two months Mat and I spent there. Oh, the things we ate! Plenty of totopos, for one thing. More varieties of tacos than I knew existed, for another.
Playa del Carmen is far from “undiscovered”. Every inch of the place has no doubt been written about and photographed by countless travellers. And for good reason! The beaches are gorgeous, the food is fabulous (duh), and you are a quick trip from Cozumel where the snorkelling (despite prior hurricane damage to the coral reefs) is still breathtaking. But there was one place that particularly stood out to us. And that place, is Akumal.
Imagine perfect sand, swimming with turtles (for free!) and eating a perfect burger, seaside.
This burger blew my mind. Well, actually, it kind of blew up in my face. See, my hilarious friend recommended a burger that would change my life. She had in fact been married on this very beach and the woman knows her stuff. So I took her recommendation seriously. She ever so slyly left out the detail of what it is that makes this burger so special. Her very clear instructions went like this: “It is huge. And not as cheap as empanadas, so you can probably share it. But don’t cut it in half! One of you has to just bite into it. K?”
When it came out to us we were at first daunted by the sheer size of the thing. She was right; we could totally share this and be full and satisfied. I was delighted to see the sliced half of an avocado that came on the side and even happier to see the bacon. Next came the all-important question: Who takes the first bite?
It was as if our friend’s directives had instilled in us both a sense of foreboding as well as an anticipation of something magical to come. Something was about to happen, in a big way, and possibly only to one of us. We glanced at each other briefly. Then back at the burger. Mat pushed the plate toward me with a look that said both “I love you.” and “You owe me.”
“Go ahead, bébé.”
I took a deep breath, picked up the burger with both hands, and took the biggest bite I could physically withstand. What happened in the next seconds is etched into my memory. A surprise filling of gooey cheesy and mushroomy fabulousness bursting at the seams of a juicy, meaty monstrosity. It was not just an explosion of flavour. It was an explosion. As I said, in my face. It was a confusing moment, I have to say. I was being violently squirted with meat juice and dairy product that sprayed all over my shirt, arm, and face, all the while smiling and laughing as if I’d just been selected from a crowd to win a free car. “I won! I won!” Fascinated by the scene unfolding, Mat reached out for the burger and took his own, equally large yet much tidier, bite. We were silent until consumption was complete and I had used several napkins to wipe myself down. We washed it down with Coke from glass bottles and sat happily watching the gentle waves and feeling the warm breeze caress us while we absent-mindedly patted our bellies. It was awesome.
Oh, and what does all this have to do with guacamole? Well, nothing really. Yet I cannot think back to my time in Mexico without recalling certain significant culinary discoveries. They are as follows, in no particular order:
I like burgers that explode.
Developing a tolerance to hot sauce is an art.
The answer to “Why is this so delicious?!” in Mexico, is “Because it’s fried.”
Gold tequila is not better just because it’s gold. I’ve got one word for you: Reposado
I didn’t think playing with your food could apply to soup. Then I tried Pasole.
Cream that is so thick it needs to be spooned onto food is wonderful and no one should judge your generous use of it. No one.
I am always in the mood for guacamole.
The funny thing about guacamole is that before travelling to the land of guac-o-plenty I had heard a great deal of high fulluting guacamole snobbery. “The real thing never has tomatoes in it!” “Oh my, is there garlic in this guacamole? How…original.” I was completely prepared to get to Mexico and finally see this one and only authentic way of preparing the stuff. And guess what? I never had the same guacamole twice.
I had guacamole with or without: tomatoes, hot sauce, fresh jalapeño, juice from preserved hot peppers, garlic, red onion, white onion, cilantro, cream, cream cheese, I mean the list goes on. And that was in two months! I am not saying there is no right or wrong way to do things. I respect the methods and ingredients that, say, Italian great-grandmothers swear by. But certain dishes are designed to start with the same star ingredient (in this case, obviously, avocado) and be built up using what you have at your disposal. Maybe you cannot get fresh hot peppers, for example, but you can get jarred or canned peppers. Or crushed dried peppers, for that matter! Is your guest going to curl their upper lip and turn away from the bowl while saying in a low, thick voice, “Well I can tell just from looking at it that this is not authentic guacamole.” Do people like that even exist? Sadly I’m sure they do, but you do not need to be having them over for dinner.
1 fresh jalapeño
1 garlic clove (a big no no to many die-hards, but darn it, I like my garlic!)
1/2 small red onion
1 small tomato, innards removed
juice of 1 small lime
pinch of salt
So here’s how I learned to work with my avocados: Slice them in half lengthwise. Twist gently and pull apart. With the blade of your knife, crack down on the seed, and twist. That bad boy will come right out. Using your thumb, flick the seed off the blade. Into the garbage? No! One of the tricks I learned in Mexico, (which I’m sure all of you savvy readers already knew, cause you’re just clever like that) is to keep the seeds in the mixture. It keeps the avocado from browning! Isn’t nature cool? In fact at most parties we went to, the seeds were left in it not just during prep, but while serving too.
OK, so I made mine chunky this time. Rather than trying to work out precise knife cuts I just used a large spoon and kind of cut the avocado out in chunks that way. Add them to your seeds in a large mixing bowl. Finely chop your jalapeño, and if you’re not afraid of the heat, throw it in there, seeds and all! Finely chop your garlic, onion, and tomato. (The reason I left the tomato innards out was to not dilute the avocado flavor. But obviously, you don’t have to do it my way!) Now squeeze your lime.
And I should mention at this point, that while there was a great deal of variety to the guacs I ate in Mexico, lime was as much a star as avocado. There is such an abundance of limes and it is fully taken advantage of in their cuisine! I have found that more than any other element to guacamole, the amount of lime you use really comes down to taste. Some like it really limey (me!) and others prefer to have a more subtle hint of lime (not me!) So whatever works. Stir it around and add a pinch of salt. The amount of stirring will affect the texture, so just keep that in mind. I like to stir mine just enough so it is still chunky but with creamy avocadoness binding it all together.
Sadly, I did not have any cilantro to add, but if you’ve got it, chop some up and toss it in there! And do I need to tell you that this guacamole goes fabulously with homemade totopos? Nah, I didn’t think so. You’re on it.
¨LOL HA Restaurant¨, Akumal
¨LOL HA burger¨